Thursday, November 1st, 2007
I’m sure I’m not the only fanfiction writer out there who has made regular (almost daily) use of the fantastic reference site, The Harry Potter Lexicon. For those of you who don’t keep up with The Leaky Cauldron News Site like I do, the WB and JKR have filed a lawsuit against RDR Books and (among other un-named individuals) Steve Vander Ark of the Harry Potter Lexicon who intend to release a book version of The Lexicon this November.
Having spent the better part of my afternoon reading both sides of this debate, I can express only one thing for sure, which is that JK Rowling has — time and time again — gone above and beyond to reach out and happily coexist with her fans and the fan sites. There was a time when authors, creators, and production houses regularly and rabidly went after fansites in other fandoms with Cease and Desist Orders just for daring to display a handful of screen-captures (any old-school Simpsons, Gargoyles, or Buffy online fan will surely remember those days), and (to my knowledge) neither JKR nor Warner Brothers has ever done this to us. They have recognized the value of the fandom to excite and invigorate the franchise, and even opened up wider connections, granting outstanding fansites such as Mugglenet and Leaky more access, and graciously allowed (and in JKR’s case, even promoted) webmasters to provide free content to the fans.
Whatever the legalities involved, I am saddened to think that, because of any of this, JKR and Warner Brothers might now begin to rethink allowing such activities, and that cornerstones of the online Harry Potter community (such as the Leaky image galleries or the online Lexicon) might now be in danger. One of the joys of this fandom has been the wealth of information, imagery, and movie clips that have proven to the copyright-concerned companies that free online sharing of their copyrighted images and information will encourage and increase rather than harm their profit, acting as free and positive PR.
JKR has time and time again respected and encouraged all manner of fandom activities that directly and legally infringe her creative property — including the Lexicon, fan art, fanfiction, image galleries, etc. — and to my knowledge all she has asked in return is that her original ownership of this world she invested 17 years of her life in be respected, and that people do not attempt to turn a profit on the coat-tails of those 17 years without permission. In light of her past positive relations with the Lexicon, I am surprised and saddened that the staff of the Lexicon either did not consult with her on this project or respect her wishes after she granted them such overwhelming leniency with her work (something she was certainly never under obligation to do) in the past, and that they might have now made JKR, her publishers and Warner Brothers reconsider allowing the fandom such freedom.
JKR has respected and encouraged the fandom from the beginning. Regardless of the dollars involved, I believe she has earned our respect in turn and that her wishes in this matter should have been followed in the spirit of continued good will. Webmasters of fansites, fanfiction writers, fanartists, and all other fans who spend thousands and thousands of unpaid hours creating such vibrant content should only do so if they are willing to do so for free. Some sites do generate varying profits from Google Adwords or registration fees, but the vast majority of them do so to cover the huge bandwidth costs that are inevitable with popular, high traffic fansites (and many barely manage to cover those even when they do monetize their sites). To actively seek out a profit on a legally infringing fan work without the approval or blessings of the author or creator is extremely bad form, and while I will continue to support the online Lexicon, I cannot in good conscious support a book of the same information that generates a profit for anyone not granted permission to do so by JKR. I only hope that, when the dust settles, the online Lexicon will be allowed to continue its profit-free work by and for fans, and that other major fan sites I frequent that legally infringe on copyright will not be caught up in this rabble and shut down out of fear that they, too, might attempt to turn a profit.
Edited to Add: Read what RDR Books has to say about all of this.
It appears as though RDR has been the major instigator in this lawsuit:
“The action against The Harry Potter Lexicon was commenced soon after we contacted Warner Bros. requesting fair compensation for their unauthorized use Mr. Vander Ark’s copyrighted material on millions of DVDs. The court filing was followed within less than two hours by vast, carefully orchestrated international publicity campaign designed to impugn the reputations of Mr. Vander Ark and RDR Books.”
Am I the only one who sees war-mongering here? It seems like RDR has attempted to stir up trouble, perhaps to gain publicity (which seems to have worked) for an impending book-launch (the book version of The Lexicon is scheduled to publish at the end of this month).
I very much wish Steve Vander Ark would comment, though I imagine he has been under strict orders from the publisher and the lawyers involved not to.
Edited Again to Add: Leaky has managed to get a basic Q/A with both WB and RDR Books.
Considering the close affiliation of The Lexicon and The Leaky Cauldron, Leaky (specifically Melissa, who is a personal friend of Steve) is doing an excellent job of keeping the fandom as informed as they can while going to great lengths to stress that they have not taken a side. Very good form, Leaky. The extra effort taken to present all arguments is appreciated in a fandom that is (perhaps by virtue of being quite young) often quick with the wank. I mean, it’s there certainly, but not like it could have been. Well done on Leaky and Melissa.