Harry Potter a copyright challenge

J K Rowling is preparing to protect her ownership of Harry Potter by appearing in a US court next month to testify against RDR books, an independent American publisher. RDR is planning to publish an unauthorised encyclopaedia of the world of wizardry which she created – a Harry Potter Lexicon, which is a 400-page guide to the Harry Potter books and movies. The unauthorised encyclopaedia was compiled by a free internet website, The Harry Potter Lexicon, which claims 25 million annual visitors. (The Times, 26th March 2008)

Rowling is taking the legal action with Warner Bros, the studio which made the Harry Potter films. They are accusing the unauthorised book of lifting 2,034 of its 2,437 entries straight from her work. In Britain and the US the work's creator holds the copyright. This prevents substantial passages being reproduced without permission. Rowling announced she planned her own lexicon from which she will donate royalties to charities. She said: ' the Lexicon interferes with my rights as a creator and copyright holder'. (The Times, 26th March 2008)

Lawyers for RDR Books said: '(the lexicon is a) legitimate literary activity. Like a reference book or a guide to literature, it's a long-recognised genre. We are not replacing the novel or taking away the market.' (BBC News, 29th February 2008)

David S. Hammer, co-counsel for RDR Books, said: 'The Harry Potter Lexicon draws material and inspiration from the Harry Potter series but is an entirely new piece of work. It is a companion to Rowling's work, not a substitute for it. No one is going to buy the Lexicon instead of a Harry Potter book or instead of seeing a Harry Potter film.' (The Times, 26th March 2008)

Read the Times 100 case study on NFTE (The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship) to see how an entrepreneur sets about identifying a genuine market opportunity. NFTE programmes help young people to learn the skills to set up their own enterprises. There are many factors that may inspire a business idea, such as competitors' products, overseas markets or new ideas by the inventor. It is the idea that creates the business opportunity. It is important that entrepreneurs research the market to avoid possible infringement of existing ideas.


The Times 100 Case Studies – NFTE, Developing enterprise skills

The Times Online – J. K. Rowling determined to block RDR Books' Harry Potter 'rip-off', 26 March 2008

BBC News – Rowling 'exploited' by book plan, 29 February 2008

Wikipedia – Copyright

Wikipedia – Entrepreneur

Potential Study Questions:

  • What does 'copyright' protection mean?
  • Name two other forms of protection for businesses and individuals who produce original work.
  • Do you think an author might be regarded as an entrepreneur? Answer 'yes' or 'no' and give your reasons.
  • For Economists: evaluate the significance of copyright laws acting as a barrier for a new firm entering a market.