TV and film writers are on strike for a “fair share” of the revenue from internet distribution of the programs and films they’ve written. But in a ironic twist on the relationship of written language to the internet, JK Rowling and Warner Brothers are suing tiny book publisher RDR books for turning what has been available free on the internet into a book. The key issue in the complaint they filed in New York court is that there’s a major difference between information available free online and the same information in a book sold for profit. Is it coincidence that the suit was filed on Halloween?
A middle school librarian in Grand Rapids Michigan has been running a popular website devoted to comment and criticism on Rowling’s phenomenal Harry Potter series. He and his contributors have created a virtual Harry Potter encyclopedia which provides serious literary criticism of Rowling’s work and easy access to information about the books. Even Rowling herself says that it has been a handy reference for her as she is writing and needs to check something out from a previous book.
The website has never taken any advertising unlike several other web sites devoted to the series. So the royalties the author would earn on the book would be the only compensation he would receive for several years of diligent scholarship. The book, The Harry Potter Lexicon, is based entirely – almost verbatim – on the website. So why is Warner Bros and Rowling seeking an injunction to prevent the book which is ready for release in English and several foreign editions from being published when they have actually encouraged the website. The Lexicon author is featured in an interview to be included in the next Harry Potter DVD by Warner Brothers and a timeline he created for the books will also be on the DVD.
No question has been raised about the Potter web sites that earn tens of thousands of dollars a month through selling advertising so its hard to support the argument in the claim that it’s that the book will be sold that makes the difference. The website has had 25 million hits so the information it provides has already been widely accessed.
What’s so different about buying a book to get the same information?
And isn’t it funny that so many folks have been predicting the death of reading books and this suit argues that a book is more of a threat to their literary empire than a website?
On the other hand maybe a book does have some strengths that a website doesn’t have:
- It’s more permanent
- It’s edited so that the information in it should be more reliable than the website
- It’s portable and can be accessed anywhere including the bathroom, on a plane, in bed
- It doesn’t require access to or use of an energy source
One would think that Rowling would realize that this book has the potential to become a text in literature courses which would enhance her reputation as a literary giant rather than just an author of kids books. Not to mention the future genrations of serious literature students who will be buying her books. Harry Potter could reach the stature of Huckleberry Finn in great literature.
Lawyers are predicting that, because of the murky questions around intellectual property in various media the case could reach the Supreme Court. But that would depend on whether David, the publisher, can sell enough books to acquire the funds to fight Goliath, Warner Brothers.
Veteran educator Gary Stager, Ph.D. is the author of Twenty Things to Do with a Computer – Forward 50, co-author of Invent To Learn — Making, Tinkering, and Engineering in the Classroom, publisher at Constructing Modern Knowledge Press, and the founder of the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. He led professional development in the world’s first 1:1 laptop schools thirty years ago and designed one of the oldest online graduate school programs. Gary is also the curator of The Seymour Papert archives at DailyPapert.com. Learn more about Gary here.