Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. v RDR Books

Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. v. RDR Books
575 F. Supp. 2d 513

Issue: Whether a the Harry Potter Lexicon based on the Harry Potter books and the free online guide violated Warner Brothers’ copyright protection and a violation of fair use.

Procedural Posture: Trial in the District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Facts: J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series of books. The popularity of the book series extends around the globe. As a result of the success of the book series, Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. obtained the exclusive rights from Rowling to create the entire film series. Each of the movies is covered by copyright registration. Warner Brothers have licensed certain rights, such as a license to Electronic Arts to create a video. Rowling also wrote a short series of a fictional newspaper “The Daily Prophet” that was distributed in the UK. Additionally, Rowling wrote two companion books to the series and registered their copyrights. Rowling also stated an intention to create an encyclopedia for the series. This encyclopedia would alphabetically list the people, places and things found throughout the series. Rowling has started to compile her works in order to work on her encyclopedia. Steven Vander Ark owns a website called the Harry Potter Lexicon. That website was an online encyclopedia that contained characters, facts, etc. from the book. Based off the website and some outside sources, Vander Ark sought to create a written encyclopedia. RDR Books approached Vander Ark to publish the book. RDR planned to create the book, but Warner Bros. and Rowling instituted suit.

Holding: Court held that the Harry Potter Lexicon violated Warner Brothers’ and Rowling’s copyright protections and that the use was not a fair use.

Critical Analysis: In order for plaintiffs to make their case, they had to show that (1) they had to show ownership of valid copyright and (2) copying of the constituent elements of the works that are original.
First the court looked to whether the plaintiffs had valid copyrights claims to the materials that were allegedly infringed. The court determined that the plaintiffs did have a valid claim to them, including the “Daily Prophet” series and the video games and playing cards.
Secondly, the court looked to whether there was copying of the original and determine if they were substantially similar. That determination had a quantitative (how much was copied) and qualitative (were the copied parts protectable) analysis. The court found that significant portions of the original were copied. In fact, the defendant admitted that he had created his work by using the original works to compile his information. As for the qualitative analysis, the court determined that the encyclopedia copied “fictional facts” that were created by Rowling.
Plaintiffs also argued that defendant violated the right to control derivative works. The court rejected this argument because the encyclopedia did take facts from the novels but merely put them to another use – to give readers an understanding of what is going on in the fictional world. It no longer takes on the same characteristics as the original works.
Finally, defendant asserted fair use as a defense against copyright infringement. The court looked to the four factors laid out in §107 of the Copyright Act: (1) the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes; (2) the nature of the copyrighted work; (3) the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole, and (4) the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.
The court first looked at the relationship between the first and third factors. The court found that the encyclopedia was transformative in its purpose for some areas, where they added incite and other things not included in the original, but that the use was not consistently transformative, where there was simple descriptions taken from the books. The court then looked to the amount of copying and determined that the amount copied far surpassed that needed for the purpose of the encyclopedia. Viewed together, the first and third factors weighed against finding fair use. The second factor also weighed against finding fair use because the original works were so creative and fanciful that they deserved greater protection. The market harm factor also weighed against the defendant because it took away a possible market that the plaintiff wanted to exploit. As a result of balancing, the court found that there was no fair use.

Likely future impact: This will have a major impact on the analysis that will go on when a party is attempting to create a derivative work similar to an encyclopedia. It will guide the party on what kinds of things need to be done in order to present a solid fair use defense.

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