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Thing 001698 (The Lexicon)

Between 1997 and 2007, J. K. Rowling published seven books in the Harry Potter series and two companion books. The Harry Potter series chronicles the lives and adventures of Harry Potter and his friends at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The Harry Potter series achieved enormous success and has been translated in many languages. Rowling owns the copyright to each of the books. Warner Brothers obtained the exclusive film rights to the seven-book Harry Potter series from Rowling and licensed certain rights to Electronic Arts to create video games based on the series.

In 2000, Steve Vander Ark, a librarian from Michigan, created the fan website Harry Potter Lexicon with a group of volunteers. The site assembles on-line shared knowledge from the books about spells, characters, creatures, magical items and places into searchable A-to-Z indexed lists. The site became an important reference guide for fans. Rowling, Warner Brothers and Electronic Arts admitted that they used the website while developing the series. In August 2007, Roger Rapoport, of the U. S. publishing company RDR Books, contacted Vander Ark to publish a print version of the encyclopedia sections from the fan website under the title The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction and Related Materials.

On September 18, 2007, Warner Brothers wrote a letter to RDR Books, notifying them that The Lexicon, infringed on Rowling’s copyrights. On October 11, 2007, RDR Books sent Warner Brothers a letter claiming that Warner had violated Vander Ark’s rights in the Lexicon website. On October 31, 2007, Warner Brothers filed suit in court. On September 8, 2008, the court case Warner Brothers Entertainment v. RDR Books took place at the United States District Court. Judge Robert Patterson held that:

[...] Although it is difficult to quantify how much of the language in The Lexicon is directly lifted from the Harry Potter novels and companion books, The Lexicon indeed contains at least a troubling amount of direct quotation [...]. [...] While acknowledging actual copying, [Vander Ark] disputes that the copying amounts to an improper or unlawful appropriation of Rowling’s works. [...] Although hundreds of pages or thousands of fictional facts may amount to only a fraction of the seven-book series, this quantum of copying is sufficient to support a finding of substantial similarity [...] Each of the 2,437 entries in The Lexicon contains fictional facts created by Rowling [...] What matters at the infringement stage of this case is that the copied text is expression original to Rowling, not fact or idea [...] The Lexicon’s rearrangement of Rowling’s fictional facts does not alter the protected expression such that The Lexicon ceases to be substantially similar to the original works. [...] Notwithstanding the dissimilarity in the overall structure of The Lexicon and the original works, some of The Lexicon entries contain summaries of certain scenes or key events in the Harry Potter series [...] The Lexicon does not recast the material in another medium to retell the story of Harry Potter, but instead gives the copyrighted material another purpose. [...] Under these circumstances, and because The Lexicon does not fall under any example of derivative works listed in the statute, [Warner Brothers] have failed to show that The Lexicon is a derivative work. [...] The purpose of The Lexicon’s use of the Harry Potter series is transformative. [...] Because it serves these reference purposes, rather than the entertainment or aesthetic purposes of the original works, The Lexicon’s use is transformative and does not supplant the objects of the Harry Potter works. [...] The Lexicon’s use of Rowling’s companion books, however, is transformative to a much lesser extent. [...] Because The Lexicon’s use of the companion books is only marginally transformative, The Lexicon is likely to supplant the market for the companion books. [...] Rowling testified that if the Lexicon is published, it would destroy her will or heart to continue with [writing her own] encyclopedia. [...]

The court concluded that RDR Books used the expressions of Harry Potter and failed to establish fair use. The publication of The Lexicon was prohibited.