Sunday, April 20, 2008

An Author's Opinion of the Harry Potter Lexicon by Matthew Peterson

An author's writing is often their baby, and with any baby, you want to protect it. Most authors today would welcome fans creating lexicons, websites, and fanfiction of their work. That's because most authors have very small audiences and would love any free promotion they could get. However, popular authors, like J.K. Rowling, have more at stake when a fan pushes the envelope.

For those of you out of the loop, Steve Vander Ark, a 50 year-old former librarian from Michigan, created an online Harry Potter lexicon, which everyone could view freely. That didn't seem to stir the pot too much until he agreed with RDR Books to print the lexicon and sell it to the public. J.K. Rowling got wind of this and is taking the issue to court in New York. She feels that Vander Ark's lexicon has little value to Harry Potter fans and that it infringes on copyright laws. RDR Books claims that they are protected under the fair use laws.

As a new author, I initially felt that J.K. Rowling was making too much of a fuss about this. RDR Books was only going to do a first print run of 1500. That would hardly make a dent in Rowling's fanbase or in her pocketbook. Heck, I gave away more than 1500 copies of my new fantasy novel, Paraworld Zero, for free! And if the lexicon truly was substandard, wouldn't that just boost sales for the official Harry Potter encyclopedia that Rowling plans to write? So the issue must run deeper than money. The issue at hand is the plagiarism and mishandling of Rowling's "baby."

Rowling's complaint that the lexicon is poorly written does not warrant a lawsuit in my mind, but her argument that the lexicon is mostly filled with quotes from her books and has little original content does raise a red flag. The American fair use laws do allow for quotations of copyrighted material without permission, but Vander Ark might have overstepped his bounds. The courts will decide on that. In the final analysis, the lexicon will not hurt book sales of Harry Potter. It will not demean Harry Potter nor will it take away any significant amount of money from Rowling. In fact, the lawsuit and media coverage will probably increase the sales of Rowling's official encyclopedia when it comes out. So, again, that leaves the sentimental and legal issues of having someone else play with your work.

How would I feel if someone wrote a lexicon about my Parallel Worlds series? At this point in the game, I'd feel flattered. Ask me this question again in fifteen years when my "baby" has matured into a teenager, and I might give you a different answer. Authors, as well as parents, can be very protective of their children.

Matthew Peterson is an award-winning short story writer, second degree black belt in karate, Eagle scout, computer programmer, and former missionary. He lives in Arizona with his wife, five boys and their giant African tortoise. Matthew's debut young adult novel, Paraworld Zero (ISBN # 978-1-59092-491-4), hit the bestseller list and garnered many favorable reviews. Reviewers say it's a "Harry Potter meets Star Wars." Website:

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