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J K Rowling clarifies fair use

A US federal copyright case brought by Harry Potter creator J K Rowling and her publishers in New York against an unauthorised guide to Harry Potter seems to have clarified the law on "fair use".

Author Steve Vander Ark's Harry Potter guide The Lexicon - an unauthorised guide to Harry Potter and related materials was described by Rowling as "a wholesale theft of 17 years of hard work". The court ruled in favour of Rowling for copyright infringement and blocked publication of the book.

District Judge Robert Patterson reasserted the right to "fair use" for the purposes of critique or review, but ruled that The Lexicon had taken too much of the "facts" of the Harry Potter fantasy world, arranging them in the same order they occured in the books, with "little justification" - there was not enough analysis or review to justify fair use.

Judge Patterson ruled that the books did not infringe the copyright of the Harry Potter novels, but did infringe the copyright of two J K Rowling co- authored "companion works" to the Harry Potter series, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Quidditch Through The Ages. Vander Ark's Potter-related website www.hp-lexicon.org  which he runs with seven volunteers, was ruled not to have breached Rowling's copyright, and is still up. Vander Ark"s book eventually went on sale in a rewritten edition with the above title in December.

Vander Ark's extensive rewrite of the book, citing comments in favour of the principle of fair use that the judge made in the trial. Rowling and her publishers said they were happy with the new edition.

The judgement is likely to have implications for "transformative works" - fan-produced tributes and the like. It could influence developments in laws or judgements on  fair dealing in the UK, as the "fair use" doctrine in US copyright law influences fair use in other jurisdictions.

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