Tuesday, April 15, 2008

JK Rowling is Crying

JK Rowling is in America to testify on the publication of an unofficial encyclopedia of Harry Potter material, as found here in this BBC article. The case is about this fella who runs a Harry Potter website and wants to use the compiled material from his website to publish his unofficial encyclopedia of Harry Potter-ana.

The article is fascinating. It almost completely ignores the question of the legitimacy of unofficial guides of published material. Hitherto, it has been commonplace for there to be a plethora of unofficial guides, encyclopedias and the like published. Go down to any bookstore in America, and you'll probably be able to find a dozen different guides to Tolkien's works. Go to the philosophy section of any school library and you'll routinely find third party analysis of published philosophical writing that is also copyrighted. Honestly, insofar as I can tell, it's a pretty simple issue. Third-party guides to literature have been commonplace since before the printing press. Which doesn't mean that Rowling is going to lose. She's got a billion dollars, and the overwhelming trend in copyright law is to give more and more power to the owners of copyright.

What I find fascinating is the utterly emotionally manipulative character of the article. So, we leap straight into it. In paragraph two, "She said she had stopped work on a new novel because her legal concerns had 'decimated my creative work'." And then in paragraph three, "'I really don't want to cry,' she said as she gave evidence in her copyright infringement case against writer Steve Vander Ark and his publisher RDR Books." OhmyGOD. Are we really supposed to feel sorry for this billionaire?! I mean, that's what she is. A billionaire.

Well, in paragraph four we get, "Ms Rowling, who denied the case was about money, accused Mr Vander Ark, a librarian, of 'an act of betrayal' in using her fiction as the basis for his guide." It's a guide about HARRY POTTER . So, yes, it's going to use her work as it's basis. That's what literary guides do. They use the literature that they pertain to guide as the basis for the guide. It's sort of like using France as the basis for a guide about France. What else are people who are going to write about Harry Potter supposed to use as their guides? But also note the note of manipulation. It's betrayal. Like these people owe her something? Who betrayed her and what was the betrayal? Especially she she claims it's not, oh no, not about money - even tho' the guide has largely existed on the Internet for years, it isn't an issue until it's to be printed, but it's a betrayal and not about money. Ugh.

And then, "The author said she is not sure if she now has 'the will or the heart' to write her own definitive encyclopedia, the proceeds of which she had intended to donate to charity." So, in addition to again harping on how emotionally effected this billionaire woman is, they have to throw in the suggestion that in addition to the publishers of the proposed guide being horrible people who have badly hurt that nice Ms Rowling woman, they're also going to starve babies. If they hadn't hurt her so, she really, really would have donated the proceeds from those book sales to charity.

It is only in the last two paragraphs of the article, after wading through the rest of that dreck, that it was mentioned that . . . maybe the other side has a point. That the publication of literary reference guides is normal, and if Rowling wins it'll broaden copyright protection to include reference guides to published material. That, despite Rowling's tears that she dabs away with solid fucking gold handkerchiefs, there are actual legal issues to be addressed in this case, and it simply isn't those nasty colonials wanting to betray Rowling (remember, it's not about money . . . even though the very idea of copyright protection is very much about money and always has been, but let's not bring that up, either) but maybe, just maybe, there is an actual legal issue at stake.

Still, I'm pretty amazed at the shoddy coverage and blatant emotional manipulation of the piece. And, more generally, I think it's representative of the sort of free pass that Rowling gets in the media, which is largely responsible for her success, I feel. She can do no wrong. Somewhere along the line, it simply became meaningfully impossible to talk about Rowling in anything other than the most glowing of terms - and if one does chance to dislike her (deeply mediocre) books, it's not that you just dislike her books, it's that you're a terrible curmudgeon trying to ruin everyone else's fun. Likewise, if you do something that stands against the Harry Potter financial empire - an empire of increasingly Star War-esque dimensions - it isn't just a legal proceeding with the other party merely disagreeing, you're hurting JK Rowling's feelings! I mean, go and read the article! It's mostly about how all of this has hurt her feelings. All of this, of course, serves to increase my intransigence towards her on all levels. I think she's a deeply mediocre author that has just happened to be used by publishing firms as a vehicle for them to make a lot of money, so right from the onset she represents what I dislike about the publishing industry. But over and above that, she is apparently a whiny little girl who substitutes pouting for reason.


jmb said...

I always thought that anything put on a blog was considered published.

So are they asking for the website to be taken down as well?

Yeh, right, she was going to publish her own encyclopoedia or " companion to" and donate the proceeds to charity.

Chris Bradley said...

Yeah, printing things on the Internet counts as publication.

I think that Rowling and her team had hitherto thought of this HP encyclopedia as a sort of fair use fanfic thing. Under the terms of fair use, people are allowed to use intellectual property in original works if they make no money. The owner of the copyright can still make them take it down, because the other of the copyright owns the copyright, but in practice it doesn't happen very often.

So, yes, in large, the encyclopedia in question has already been published. It has been seen by millions of people. It already exists and is accessible. The only difference, now, is that the person who has compiled it wants to make a little money off of it. That is the only substantial difference.

So when Rowling says it is not about money, she is clearly a lying hypocrite. She didn't mind when it was published for free. She only came to mind when the guy who compiled it wanted to make a little money off of it.

Baht At said...

I wouldn't mind if you couldn't see the joins where she's blatantly nicked ideas from previous works in the genre.

Once a chav always a chav.

Chris Bradley said...

There are other works in the genre?! You mean, she didn't invent the wizard in an English public school genre of fiction?! I am aghast! Well, hehe, no. She was obviously heavily inspired by other fiction in the genre - tho' she claims to be ignorant of it, AFAIK - but that doesn't bother me except insofar that she doesn't own up to it. All authors are influenced by other artists - it's just that most of us have the good taste to admit it.

So, maybe she is a chav. :)

Anonymous said...

JK Rowling has her faults. She might be a whingeing spoilt little child in this case, but you have to admit that, few as they are, she has her virtues too. So please show her a bit of respect.