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Intellectual Property

The Strange Case of Willy the Wizard versus Harry Potter: Allen v. Scholastic Inc., 1:10-cv-05335 (SDNY July 13, 2010)

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 download the Complaint from Allen v. Scholastic Inc., 1:10-cv-05335 (SDNY July 13, 2010)

Complaint - Allen v. Scholastic Inc.pdf