* Harry Potter copyright case may now come to trial
* Rowling accused of copying earlier wizard story
* Judge says claims against her “improbable” (adds reaction from Jacobs’ estate, updates throughout)
By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, Oct 14 (Reuters) - J.K. Rowling may be forced to defend herself in court against charges that she copied the work of another children’s author when writing “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” the fourth of seven Potter novels.
Judge David Kitchin who is overseeing the plagiarism case at London’s High Court said in a ruling on Thursday that the claims made by Paul Allen, trustee of the estate of the late writer Adrian Jacobs, were “improbable.”
But he also turned down an application by lawyers for Rowling and her British publisher Bloomsbury for an immediate judgment dismissing the case outright.
“Even at this early stage, the judge has concluded that the claim may succeed at a full trial,” said Allen’s laywer Nick Kounoupias.
“If the claim does proceed then J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury will be required to explain how the similarities between the two works came about,” he added.
The judge is expected to order Allen to pay a sum of money to the court as a security against the costs of the case should it eventually go to trial. That “conditional order” will be made at a later hearing, possibly before the end of the year.
Legal experts say the costs would be “substantial.”
Bloomsbury denies allegations that Rowling copied “substantial parts” of “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard — No 1 Livid Land,” written by Jacobs in 1987.
Jacobs’ estate has said that the plot of “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” copied elements of the plot of “Willy the Wizard,” including a wizard contest, and that the Potter series borrowed the idea of wizards traveling on trains.
Rowling’s book, published in 2000, was the fourth installment of the hugely successful Potter series — the stories about the British boy wizard that have sold more than 400 million copies worldwide and been turned into a multi-billion dollar film franchise.
According to his estate, Jacobs had at one point sought the services of literary agent Christopher Little, who later became Rowling’s agent. Jacobs died “penniless” in a London hospice in 1997, it added.
Bloomsbury said Rowling had never heard of Jacob’s book before the copyright claim was first made in 2004, almost seven years after the publication of the first book in the highly publicized Harry Potter series. Judge Kitchin said in his ruling that her evidence to that effect was “very powerful and Mr. Allen has no direct evidence with which to challenge it.”
“Plainly these are disputes which I cannot resolve upon this application,” he added, according to the Press Association. “But the evidence to which I have referred raises a real possibility that Mr. Little’s account of events is simply not correct.”
Allen claims Little was given copies of Jacobs’ book, but the agent, who described “Willy the Wizard” as “an appalling book,” said Jacobs had never done so.
Both Rowling and her publisher told the judge that behind the allegation “lies a consortium seeking to use this claim to extort a settlement from the defendants and sell more copies of ‘Willy the Wizard’ on the back of the publicity it generates.” (Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)