If you're going to take on Harry Potter in the courtroom, you'd better be ready for a tough battle. In the latest legal fight over the literary phenomenon, a challenger who brought a copyright infringement suit against Potter publisher Scholastic Inc. has suffered a humiliating and devastating defeat.
In a ruling on Thursday, Manhattan federal district court judge Shira Scheidlin not only dismissed the lawsuit, which was brought by Paul Gregory Allen on behalf of the estate of writer Adrian Jacobs, but she offered a blistering critique of Jacob's work. She called Jacob's book--The Adventures of Willy the Wizard-No 1 Livid Land--"entirely devoid of a moral message or intellectual depth."
Represented by Andrews & Kurth, the plaintiff alleged that J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire unlawfully used protected expressions from Livid Land, a 32-page book that was published in the United Kingdom in 1987. In Livid Land an adult wizard named Willy participates in a contest to win life membership in a retirement community called "Stellar Land."
The judge appeared to find the plaintiff's infringement claims nearly laughable. "The contrast between the total concept and feel of the works is so stark that any serious comparison of the two strains credulity," Scheindlin wrote. "The [Livid Land] book lacks any cohesive narrative elements that can unify or make sense of its disparate anecdotes--a generous reading may infer that its purpose is to engage a child's attention for a few moments at a time, much like a mobile or cartoon," she wrote. "Indeed, the text is enlivened only by the illustrations that accompany it."
Poor Willy didn't escape Scheindlin's critique either. "Willy is but a bland and interchangeable medium through which a story is told, instead of a purposeful and deliberate actor," she opined. "Because Willy's character does not display any creativity, it does not constitute protectable expression."
Scholastic is represented by Dale Cendali of Kirkland & Ellis. We contacted lawyers at Andrews & Kurth who represented the plaintiff but did not hear back.
Allen has had more success in his copyright infringement suit against Rowling in Britain, where a court has denied the defendant summary judgment, according to a footnote in Scheindlin's decision.
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