Harry Potter and the … Legal Injunctions?

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 07/11/2011
In Intellectual Property

There’s no record of Harry Potter studying wizarding law at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, but if series author J.K. Rowling had known how popular her series was going to become, perhaps she would’ve had her protagonist brush up on how to face legal issues.

Just in time for the final “Harry Potter” film, we’re taking a look at some of the legal battles the boy wizard has faced — a threat almost as serious as Voldemort himself!

Legal Injunctions

The Harry Potter series has had more than its share of copyright issues. But copyright isn’t the only legal issue associated with the Harry Potter series. When the last three books of the “Harry Potter” series were set to come out, Rowling and her publishers brought a series of legal injunctions — that is, court orders that forbade booksellers from selling or in any way distributing the books before their scheduled release date in order to maintain secrecy and fairness to all readers.

In 2003, before the release of the fifth book, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” Rowling and her British publishers obtained a new type of legal injunction against “the person or persons who has or have physical possession of a copy of the said book or any part thereof without the consent of the Claimants.” It was the first time in the history of the British legal system that an injunction had been granted without specifically naming any individuals for the injunction to be brought against.

Some retailers complained that bringing these legal injunctions was a violation of civil liberties and individual freedoms, especially in 2005, when the impending release of “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” led Rowling’s Canadian publishers to obtain a legal injunction prohibiting booksellers from reading the books they were about to sell.

Finally, in 2007, Scholastic — Rowling’s American publishing company — threatened legal action when it was reported that two retailers, DeepDiscount.com and Levy Home Entertainment, were selling copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” before its official release date. In a press release and official statement from Scholastic, the company asked readers who had gotten their books early not to read them or show them off in exchange for a free T-shirt and a $50 certificate to Scholastic’s online store.

Libel Accusations

Bloomsbury, the British publishing company responsible for the Harry Potter series, had a legal dispute with the British supermarket chain Asda a week before the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Asda, owned by US giant Wal-Mart, wrote a press release accusing Bloomsbury of unfair and fixed prices on the last Harry Potter novel. Bloomsbury promptly canceled all of Asda’s orders for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” citing unpaid bills totaling £38,000.

Asda paid the bill and warned Bloomsbury that it would be in breach of contract if the chain was not allowed to sell the books, but Bloomsbury did not ship the books and made a statement that Asda’s original press release accusing Bloomsbury of fixed prices was libelous and that the publisher didn’t want to conduct business with accusatory retailers.

Asda retracted their original press release and made a public apology to Bloomsbury in time for the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” release, leading many to speculate that Asda started the feud as a publicity stunt and a marketing ploy to get consumers to associate the chain with low prices.

Theft & Blackmail

Finally, the most violent legal story associated with the Harry Potter series. In 2005, just weeks before “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” was set to be released, Aaron Lambert, a British security guard at a book distribution center, stole a number of pages from the forthcoming book with the intent to sell them.

Lambert started negotiating a deal with John Askill, a journalist from UK publication The Sun, but the deal went awry and Lambert ended up threatening Askill, even reportedly firing a gun at him (no one was harmed). Lambert was promptly arrested and later pleaded guilty to threatening Askill and attempting to blackmail Bloomsbury. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

While Rowling has stated she won’t write any more books in the Harry Potter series, that doesn’t mean that legal disputes over the Harry Potter franchise will end anytime soon. Here’s hoping that any future legal issues are resolved faster than you can say “expelliarmus”!

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