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Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. v.

RDR Books
75 F.Supp. 2d 513 (S.D.N.Y. 2008)
ROBERT P. PATTERSON, JR., District Judge.


Plaintiff J.K Rowling is the author of the highly acclaimed Harry Potter book series
written for children but enjoyed by children and adults alike. The series chronicles
the lives and adventures of Harry Potter and his friends as they come of age at the
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and face the evil Lord Voldemort.
Plaintiff Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. obtained from Rowling the exclusive film
rights to the entire seven-book Harry Potter series. Warner Brothers is the
exclusive distributor for worldwide distribution of these films and each of the Harry
Potter films is the subject of a copyright registration.
Rowling also wrote a short series of a fictional newspaper The Daily Prophet that
was distributed in the UK. Additionally, Rowling wrote two companion books to the
series and registered their copyrights. Rowling also stated an intention to create
an encyclopedia for the series. This encyclopedia would alphabetically list the
people, places and things found throughout the series. Rowling has started to
compile her works in order to work on her encyclopedia.
Steven Vander Ark is the attributed author of the Lexicon. He is also the originator,
owner, and operator of "The Harry Potter Lexicon" website, a popular Harry
Potter fan site from which the content of the Lexicon is drawn. His purpose was to
create an encyclopedia that collected and organized information from the Harry
Potter books in one central source for fans to use for reference. It featured Vander
Arks descriptive lists of spells, characters, creatures and magical items from Harry
Potter with hyperlinks to cross-referenced entries. He also developed an A-to-Z
index to each list to allow users to search for entries alphabetically.
In addition to these reference features, the website contains a variety of
supplemental material pertaining to Harry Potter, including fan art, commentary,
essays, timelines, forums, and interactive data.
The content of the encyclopedia entries on the Lexicon website is drawn primarily
from the Harry Potter series, the companion books, "The Daily Prophet"
newsletters, the "Famous Wizard Cards," and published interviews of Rowling.
According to Vander Ark, some additional content is drawn from outside reference
sources, including Bullfinch's Mythology, Field Guide to Little People, New Shorter
Oxford English Dictionary, and online encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia
Mythica. Frequently, these sources are not cited in the website's encyclopedia
In 2007, Roger Raporport, president of RDR Books approached Vander Ark about
turning the content of his website into a book.
Rapoport and Vander Ark agreed that the content of the book would be limited to
the encyclopedia sections of the Lexicon website that presented descriptions of
the persons, places, spells, and creatures from the Harry Potter works. The idea
was to publish the first complete guide to the Harry Potter series that included
information from the first until the final Harry Potter novel.
Counsel for plaintiffs notified defendants that the Lexicon appeared to infringe
Rowlings copyrights and the requesting that RDR Books cease publication of the
book but the demand was unheeded which led them to file the lawsuit against RDR

Whether the Harry Potter Lexicon based on the Harry Potter books and the free online
guide violated Warner Brothers copyright protection -YES

Whether or not the Lexicon is a derivative work? NO

Whether or not the doctrine of fair use can apply?

1. Copyright infringement

In order for plaintiffs to make their case, they need to show that
(1) they had to show ownership of valid copyright and
(2) copying of the constituent elements of the works that are original.

There is no dispute that Rowling has valid copyrights. The issue is about the seven novels
and two companion books. The Court found that by using a quantitative/qualitative
analysis (the first component addressing the amount of the work copied, and the second
addressing how much of it was protected expression as opposed to unprotected ideas or
facts), the majority of the Lexicon contained direct quotes, paraphrased sections, plot
details, or summarized scenes from the novels. Moreover, the copying was even more
substantial in regards to the two companion books, since they were so short and large
portions were copied wholesale in the Lexicon.

As to the protection of fictional facts. the court here relied primarily on the precedent set
by Castle Rock Entertainment, Inc. v. Carol Publishing Group, Inc., a 1998 case about
a Seinfeld trivia book. A New York Court held that the copied facts were actually fiction
created by Seinfelds writers, and therefore protected. Similarly, the facts in the Lexicon
were Rowlings original expression.

The court also pointed to the similarity of language, and the fact that the Lexicon
contained a number of direct quotations, often without quotation marks. Also troubling
were the summaries of scenes, passages that retold small portions of the novel. There is
also case precedent holding that plot summaries of television shows constitute copyright
infringement, and even though the court acknowledged that the plot summaries in the
Lexicon were not as detailed as those in the previous cases, it found the circumstances
close enough to find that the Lexicon did infringe on Rowlings copyright.

2. Derivative work

Plaintiffs allege that the Lexicon not only violates their right of reproduction, but also their
right to control the production of derivative works but the court rejected this argument. It
held that the act of condensing, synthesizing, and reorganizing the preexisting material in
an A-to-Z reference guide does not recast the material in another medium to retell the
story of Harry Potter, but instead gives the copyrighted material another purpose which is
to give the readers ready understanding of individual elements in the elaborate world
of Harry Potter that appear in voluminous and diverse sources. As a result, the Lexicon
no longer "represents the original works of authorship."

3. Fair use

The defendant asserted fair use as a defense against copyright infringement. The fair use
doctrine is designed to "fulfill copyright's very purpose, `to promote the Progress of
Science and useful Arts,' by balancing the simultaneous needs "to protect copyrighted
material and to allow others to build upon it."

The common law doctrine of fair use is codified at Section 107 of the Copyright Act of
(1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial
nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
(2) the nature of the copyrighted work;
(3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work
as a whole, and
(4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.

The Court held that The Lexicon is transformative in relation to the Harry Potter novels
because it serves as a reference guide and not as entertainment, but it is only slightly
transformative in relation to Rowlings companion books which also serve as guides to
characters and objects in the Harry Potter world.

The Court rejected the plaintiffs argument that The Lexicon is not transformative because
it lacks commentary or analysis. The court explained that The Lexicon does not purport
to be a work of literary criticism or to constitute a fair use on that basis; and its lack of
critical analysis, linguistic understanding, or clever humor is not determinative of whether
or not its purpose is transformative. The court also held that the amount of verbatim
copying diminished the transformative nature of the work and tilted the third factor against
a finding of fair use.

Finally, the court held that reading The Lexicon would not likely be a substitute for reading
the Harry Potter novels and therefore would not impair sales of the Harry Potter novels,
but The Lexicon was likely to impair the sales of Rowlings companion books. The court
enjoined the defendant from publishing The Lexicon and awarded the plaintiffs the
minimum statutory damages of $750 for each of the nine works that was infringed.