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Harry Potter Case Illustrates Blurry Line in Copyright Law

April 20, 2008

Laurence Pulgram, Chair of the Fenwick & West Copyright Litigation Group, was recently quoted in an Associated Press article entitled "Harry Potter Case Illustrates Blurry Line in Copyright Law."

For a time, "Harry Potter" superfan Steven Vander Ark seemed to be living a geeky dream. His Web site—an obsessive catalog of spells, characters and creatures in J.K. Rowling's novels—was a hit among fellow fanatics. But all that changed after a little-known publishing company, RDR Books, announced it would release a print version of the lexicon. The author and Warner Bros. sued, asking a judge to block publication on the grounds that it violated copyright law, and the case went to trial this week. The dispute has thrust Ark into the middle of a closely watched case that illustrates the muddled state of copyright law enforcement when it comes to the Web.

The author and her lawyers said they were stirred to action by the proposal to move the Potter lexicon from the anything-goes Web, where it was available for free, into book form, where it would compete directly with a Potter encyclopedia that Rowling plans to write herself. The question now for the courts is whether the lexicon itself violates copyright law, and the decision may not be easy. U.S. rules allow for the "fair use" of copyrighted material in unauthorized works, but there are limits.

Pulgram, an intellectual property lawyer who represented Napster in a copyright fight with the rock band Metallica, said deciding where to draw the line is rarely easy. "Fair use is the most erratically applied doctrine in copyright," he said.

Click here to see the full AP article.