Would anyone read a book called “Harry Potter and the Copyright Violations”? The millions of Harry Potter fans that span the globe would most likely rather read about their scarred, bespectacled hero battling Voldemort than battling copyright infringement.
However, author J.K. Rowling and her various publishers have been taking legal action against copyright and trademark violators ever since Harry Potter became a household name.
In honor of the debut of the film “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” take a look at some of the copyright infringement skirmishes that the franchise has dealt with — and continues to deal with to this day.
International Books, Sequels & Spin-Offs
Books “inspired by” the Harry Potter series are, for the most part, easy to spot. But parodies are allowed under copyright law.
J.K. Rowling, her publishers and Warner Bros. (the studio responsible for the Harry Potter films) have brought several suits against international Harry Potter-inspired novels. But many authors claimed their Potter-esque tomes were simply parodies. Several courts sided with the international authors, meaning that if you travel abroad, you can pick up copies of books like:
- “Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass” by Dmitri Yemets, published in Russia
- “Porri Gatter and the Stone Philosopher” by Andreyi Zhvalevskiyi and Igor Miyt’ko, published in Belarus
- “Barry Trotter and the Shameless Parody” by Michael Gerber, published in the United Kingdom
Other authors inspired by Harry Potter did not fare as well. Publishers had to halt the publishing of Indian writer Uttam Ghosh’s novel “Harry Potter in Calcutta,” in which the titular character meets characters from traditional Bengali literature.
Unauthorized Harry Potter books are rampant in China. Fake copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” were making the rounds 10 days before the actual novel was scheduled to be released. Additionally, Chinese readers can still occasionally get their hands on copies of unauthorized sequels “Harry Potter and the Porcelain Doll” and “Harry Potter and Bao Zoulong,” the latter being mistranslated in Western media as “Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-To-Dragon.” The text of “Bao Zoulong” features Harry Potter being featured prominently in scenes lifted straight from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” as well as a few other curious scenarios, such as a rain shower of sweet-and-sour sauce.
Even though some of these “Harry Potter” knockoffs are protected by copyright law in the country in which they were published, further copyright litigation makes it difficult to find them abroad.
Domain Name Violations
Prior to the release of the first film, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Warner Bros. sent letters to the owners of websites that had “Harry Potter” in the URL. Warner Bros. claimed that the web addresses violated copyright and demanded that the webmasters give up their domain names.
Warner Bros. caught some flak for this action, as many of the sites were simply fan websites run by devoted teenagers. The studio ended up allowing many of the fan sites to keep their domain names as long as they were running “noncommercial” sites.
The Lexicon Copyright Debacle
In the early days of Harry Potter, a librarian named Steven Vander Ark started a website called “The Harry Potter Lexicon,” which collected and organized all the facts in the series, from the important to obscure. J.K. Rowling herself praised the site for being so incredibly detailed.
However, when a publishing company approached Vander Ark and offered to publish “The Harry Potter Lexicon” as a book, Rowling stopped the book from being published, stating her intent to someday publish her own comprehensive Harry Potter encyclopedia.
After a long copyright lawsuit, a modified version of Vander Ark’s work was published in 2009 with the title “The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide to Harry Potter Fiction.”
A Current Harry Potter Copyright Lawsuit
Not all Harry Potter copyright suits center around books and movies based off of Rowling’s series — there have been a handful of authors who have accused Rowling of stealing her highly profitable ideas from them.
Back in 1999, American author Nancy Kathleen Stouffer sued Rowling for stealing ideas and material from her 1984 children’s books “The Legend of Rah and the Muggles” and “Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly.”
Stouffer lost her case, but more recently, the estate of the late author Adrian Jacobs sued Rowling for copyright infringement, alleging that plot points and characters in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” were stolen from Jacobs’ book “The Adventures of Willy the Wizard: No. 1 Livid Land.” A judge refused to dismiss the case, and the Harry Potter copyright suits continue to soldier on.