J.K. Rowling's hoping a little legal hocus-pocus will make an unauthorized Harry Potter book disappear.
The megaselling author took center stage in a Manhattan federal court Monday and testified that the planned reference guide, The Harry Potter Lexicon, "constitutes wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work."
Rowling, 42, and Warner Bros. Entertainment filed suit last October against Steven Vander Ark, owner of the Harry Potter Lexicon website and Michigan-based RDR Books. The complaint accused the defendants of copyright infringement and claimed the publication of an encyclopedia without permission violated Rowling's intellectual property rights and undermined her ability to issue her own definitive guide to the fantasy world she created.
"Words she slaved over...now appear in a book under the name of somebody else," Rowling's attorney, Dale Cendali, told judge Robert P. Patterson in opening remarks.
For her part, Rowling said the battle over Lexicon has "decimated my creative work over the last month" to the point where she's been forced to set aside her latest novel.
"I really don't want to cry," she said, when quizzed about how she felt about the publication of the guide.
Cendali said RDR's enterprise was a thinly veiled attempt to cash in on the phenomenally successful Potter books, which have sold more than 400 million copies and spawned five feature films that have grossed more than $4.5 billion.
Defense attorney Anthony Falzone, however, cited fair-use doctrine, which he believed gave RDR and the website's editor more than enough leeway "to organize and discuss the complicated and very elaborate world of Harry Potter."
That sentiment was echoed by cocounsel David Saul Hammer, who told the judge on Friday that while the publisher does not plan to contest Rowling's infringement claims that a sizeable chunk of her work was used without authorization, RDR's book shed scholarly light on the subject of Potter and was therefore protected.
Vander Ark, 50, has argued that he is within his right to put out the reference guide, retailing for $24.95 a pop, because it's culled from supplemental material generated by his Harry Potter Lexicon website, which Rowling has acknowledged being a fan of.
However, Rowling has likened the move to a plot by You-Know-Who.
She claims the site merely recycles copyrighted material she developed on her own, including listing characters, magical creatures, potions, spells and other Potter tidbits. At the same time, she argues, Vander Ark's tome leaves out original commentary and fan-based debates that she believed made the site so unique and helped enhance the experience.
Publishing such a companion guide for profit could seriously harm the revenue stream of professional writers and ultimately do a disservice to devotees of their work, she asserts.
"If RDR's position is accepted, it will undoubtedly have a significant, negative impact on the freedoms enjoyed by genuine fans on the Internet," Rowling says in court documents. "Authors everywhere will be forced to protect their creations much more rigorously, which could mean denying well-meaning fans permission to pursue legitimate creative activities."
As it stands, Rowling is not asking for damages or seeking to shut down the website, but just aims to block the guide's release.
The nonjury trial is expected to continue through the week.
It'll be up to the judge to determine whether RDR's book is a legitimate fair-use claim or constitutes what Rowling's camp says is a ripoff for monetary gain.