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The publishers of the highly popular Harry Potter series are being sued
by the trustee of the Estate of Adrian Jacobs, a British author who wrote Willy
the Wizard, published in England in 1987.
In his complaint against Scholastic Inc., Paul Gregory Allen alleges
that defendant "reproduced,
distributed, offered for sale, sold and continues to sell," copies of the book Harry
Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which, Allen avers, is "substantially similar
to the protectable expression in [the] copyrighted work Willy the Wizard, . . . in violation of the United States Copyright
Act, 17 U.S.C. 501."
To support his claim for copyright
infringement, Allen points to various similarities between the two books. For instance, Allen notes that both stories
occur in the same setting-"a year-long wizard contest"-and both plots take
place in settings where magical communities and the everyday world
coexist. Although at first blush these
similarities appear vaguely comparable, at best, Allen outlines in his
complaint several additional common characteristics of the two works: for example, both protagonists participate in
a wizard contest and must "deduce the exact nature of the central task in the
competition." Willy and Harry both learn
the nature of the task while in a special bathroom reserved for senior wizards,
and both characters use magical "color water additives" brought from the special
bathroom to decode more clearly the competition instructions. Assuming that a special bathroom is generally
not the setting of a major shift in a story, the fact that Willy and Harry both
make important discoveries in bathrooms reserved for high-ranking wizards, and
use the same tool to deduce instructions to the wizard competition, exemplify
the various suspect similarities between the two stories. In the complaint,
Allen suggests that these resemblances in plot and characters are not owed to
chance, but rather, to the fact that both Adrian Jacobs, the author of Willy
the Wizard, and J.K. Rowling, the famed author of the Harry Potter books,
had the same literary agent, to whom Jacobs provided copies of his book in
1987, thirteen years before the creation and publication of Harry Potter and
the Goblet of Fire.
Allen is seeking to permanently enjoin
Scholastic and its officers and affiliates from "publishing, printing,
reproducing, distributing, displaying, advertising, promoting, offering for
sale, and/or selling the infringing book Goblet, or any other materials
copied or derived from Willy the Wizard." Allen has also asked for all copies of Goblet
to be delivered to plaintiff for destruction, and for Scholastic, at its own
expense, to recall Goblet and any other works that infringe on Willy
the Wizard. Most significantly,
Allen has demanded that defendant pay to plaintiff any and all "gains, profits,
savings, and advantages realized by Scholastic from its acts of copyright
infringement." These figures could reach
well into the multimillions of dollars, in light of the extraordinary number of
Harry Potter books sold, licensing agreements for the Harry Potter movies
series, and a new Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, Florida.
Litigation in England is pending against Bloomsbury, the British
publisher of Goblet, and author J.K. Rowling.
Please click on the link at the top of the post to view or
the Complaint from Allen v. Scholastic Inc., 1:10-cv-05335 (SDNY July 13, 2010)