‘Harry Potter’ Author J.K. Rowling Near Tears As She Calls Potter Encyclopedia ‘Wholesale Theft’

Writer testifies in New York court to cease publication of 'The Harry Potter Lexicon.'

Throughout seven novels and their corresponding films, young wizard Harry Potter is the face of bravery, boldly meeting challenge after challenge with a grim face and a steely resolve. Not so for his creator, J.K. Rowling, who came close to tears Monday (April 14) while testifying in a New York City courtroom to defend Harry from what she described as “wholesale theft,” according to the Times Online.

Rowling testified as a result of a joint lawsuit brought by her estate and Warner Brothers (the films’ producers) against RDR Books to stop the publication of “The Harry Potter Lexicon,” a reference book culled from thousands of pages of information posted on HP-Lexicon.org.

“I really don’t want to cry, because I’m British. … These characters meant so much to me, and continue to mean so much to me, over such a long period of time,” Rowling was quoted as saying under oath. “It’s very difficult for someone who is not a writer to understand. The closest I can come is to say to someone: ‘How do you feel about your child?’ ”

Begun in 1999 by librarian Steve Vander Ark, the Web site was previously praised by Rowling, who awarded it a medal of merit in June 2004. On her personal site, she called it “a Web site for the dangerously obsessive” and her “natural home.” Those feelings have now turned to “betrayal,” the author said Monday.

“I believe this book constitutes wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work. It adds little if anything by way of commentary … and it debases what I worked so hard to create,” she said in court.

If the judge allows for the “Lexicon” to be published, Rowling thinks it will have longstanding effects on the relationship between authors and their biggest Internet fans.

“If RDR’s position is accepted, it will undoubtedly have a significant, negative impact on the freedoms enjoyed by genuine fans on the Internet,” she wrote in a pretrial statement to the court. “Authors everywhere will be forced to protect their creations much more rigorously.”

At the center of the case is the American principle of “fair use,” which allows for artists to use samples of copyrighted material in their own works. Generally speaking, artists have to contribute a certain amount of their own material (commentary, scholarship, satire, etc.) in order to be granted that entitlement. At stake in this trial is whether Vander Ark and RDR Books met that burden in their encyclopedia of the Harry Potter universe, which Rowling’s lawyer claims lifts 2,034 of its 2,437 entries straight from Rowling’s published works.

“What particularly galls me is the lack of quotation marks,” Rowling said. “If Mr. Vander Ark had put quotation marks around everything he had lifted, most of the ‘Lexicon’ would be in quotation marks.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, nearly identical passages from the “Lexicon” and “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” were shown side by side on a courtroom monitor. “Ms. Rowling appears to claim a monopoly on the right to publish literary reference guides and other non-academic research relating to her own fiction. This is a right no court has ever recognized,” Anthony Falzone, a lawyer for the defense, said in his opening statement to the court, according to the Times Online. “It would threaten not just reference guides but encyclopedias, glossaries, indexes and other tools that provide useful information about copyrighted works.”

On her Open Book Tour last year, Rowling previously promised fans that one day she would publish her own Harry Potter encyclopedia, filling it with information and backstory she was unable to include in the novels. That promise now hangs in limbo, she told the court, insisting she was unable to continue work on her newest novel at this time.

“This trial has decimated my creative work over the last month,” she was quoted as saying by the WSJ. “You lose the [plot] threads and worry whether you’ll be able to pick them up again. … Should my fans be flooded with a surfeit of substandard books, so-called lexicons, I’m not sure I’d have the will or heart to continue.”

The case is expected to continue until Thursday, although a verdict could take weeks.