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Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project to Represent RDR Books in ‘Harry Potter’ Copyright Lawsuit

Publication Date: 
December 04, 2007
Stanford Law School

STANFORD, Calif., December 4, 2007—The Fair Use Project of Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society announced today that it is signing on as co-counsel to defend an independent book publisher’s right to publish The Harry Potter Lexicon, an unofficial reference guide to the Harry Potter series of books and movies. Warner Bros., which owns the film rights to the Harry Potter books, and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling filed a lawsuit on October 31, 2007 against Michigan-based RDR Books to block the publication of the lexicon, claiming that it violates copyright and trademark law and infringes on Rowling’s plans to publish her own companion book. RDR Books contends it has the right to publish the encyclopedic reference book under the fair use doctrine, which safeguards the use of copyrighted material so long as it is used transformatively and does not damage the market value of the original work.

“The public has long enjoyed the right to create reference guides that discuss literary works, comment on them, and make them more accessible,” said Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project, who will serve as counsel on the case. “J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. are threatening that right. We intend to demonstrate that the fair use doctrine protects the Harry Potter Lexicon.”

Joining Falzone as co-counsel is Stanford’s Lawrence Lessig, founder and director of the Center for Internet and Society and the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law. They join RDR’s lead counsel David S. Hammer, a former federal prosecutor.

The 400-page Harry Potter Lexicon is a print counterpart to the fan-created website, The Harry Potter Lexicon—commonly known as the HPL—that is widely considered to be the most authoritative reference to all things Harry Potter. The site includes information on the series’ characters, places, animals, magic spells, and potions along with atlases, timelines, and analyses of magical theory. Created in 2000 by librarian Steve Vander Ark and myriad contributors, the site has an estimated 25 million annual visitors and is maintained by Vander Ark and a team of volunteer fans. Among the site’s supporters is J.K. Rowling, who bestowed the HPL with a Fan Site Award in 2004 and wrote on her website: “This is such a great site that I have been known to sneak into an Internet café while out writing and check a fact rather than go into a bookshop and buy a copy of Harry Potter (which is embarrassing).”

RDR Books planned to release The Harry Potter Lexicon, authored by Vander Ark, in the United States on November 28, 2007. On October 31, 2007, Warner Brothers and Rowling filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District to halt the book’s publication. The suit claims RDR Books and unnamed defendants misappropriated Rowling’s “fictional characters and universe” in violation of the Copyright Act, the Lanham Act, and New York state law.

On November 8, 2007, Judge Robert B. Paterson Jr. issued a temporary restraining order, voluntarily entered into by both parties, delaying RDR’s completion and distribution of the book.

A preliminary injunction hearing is set for February 6, 2008.

The Harry Potter Lexicon draws material and inspiration from the Harry Potter series but is an entirely new piece of work,” said David S. Hammer, co-counsel for RDR Books. “It is a companion to Rowling’s work, not a substitute for it. No one is going to buy the Lexicon instead of a Harry Potter book, or instead of seeing a Harry Potter film.”

“This book is a reference work based on more than seven years of research by a distinguished volunteer team of librarians and academics,” explained co-counsel Julie Ahrens, associate director of the Fair Use Project. “Fair use protects scholars’ rights to create such companion guides. It simply is not the case that authors can exploit copyright law to prevent analysis and commentary on their work.”

About the Fair Use Project

The Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s Fair Use Project (“the FUP”) was founded in 2006. Its purpose is to provide legal support to a range of projects designed to clarify, and extend, the boundaries of “fair use” in order to enhance creative freedom. The FUP represents filmmakers, musicians, artists, writers, scholars, and other content creators in a range of disputes that raise important questions concerning fair use and the limits of intellectual property rights. In doing so, it relies on a network of talented lawyers within the Center for Internet and Society, as well as attorneys in law firms and public interest organizations that are dedicated to advancing the mission of the FUP.

About Anthony Falzone

Anthony Falzone is executive director of Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project. He is an experienced intellectual property litigator who has represented technology and media clients in a wide array of intellectual property disputes including copyright, trademark, rights of publicity, and patent matters. He is also a lecturer in law at Stanford Law School, teaching Fair Use in Film. Prior to joining Stanford Law School, he was a partner in the San Francisco office of Bingham McCutchen LLP.

About Julie Ahrens

Julie Ahrens is associate director of Stanford Law School’s Fair Use Project, where she represents writers, filmmakers, musicians, and others who rely on fair use in creating their art, documentaries, scholarship, critiques, or comments. Before joining Stanford, Julie was a litigation attorney in the San Francisco office of Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

About the Center for Internet and Society

Founded by Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig in 2001, the Center for Internet and Society is a public interest technology law and policy program at Stanford Law School which engages students, academics, technologists and policy makers in exploring the interactions between technology, law, and society.

About Lawrence Lessig

Lawrence Lessig, founder and director of the Center for Internet and Society and the C. Wendell and Edith M. Carlsmith Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, and leading figure in the United States and abroad in intellectual property law. An advocate for the “innovation commons,” a free space where culture, ideas and expression can flourish, Lessig chairs the Creative Commons project at Stanford.

About Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School is one of the nation’s leading institutions for legal scholarship and education. Its alumni are among the most influential decision makers in law, politics, business, and high technology. Faculty members argue before the Supreme Court, testify before Congress, and write books and articles for academic audiences, as well as the popular press. Along with offering traditional law school classes, the school has embraced new subjects and new ways of teaching. The school’s home page is located at

About RDR Books

For fifteen years, the Michigan-based RDR Books has been publishing travel literature, Judaica, guidebooks, history, biography, education, sports, guidebooks and children's literature. Named as one of the nation's top 100 independent book publishers by Book Marketing Update, RDR's list includes the I Should Have Stayed Home trouble travel series, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free by Arjun Makhijani, Taking Risks by Joseph Pell and Fred Rosenbaum, What's Whole in Whole Language by Ken Goodman, Waterwalk by Steven Faulkner, and The Best of Michael Rosen by the bestselling children's author himself.

About Participating Attorneys

David S. Hammer, lawyer for RDR Books, is a New York-based trial lawyer with extensive experience in all aspects of criminal and civil litigation. He was a federal prosecutor in the Southern Districts of Florida and New York and has served as an advisor to the Office of Policy Planning in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division. Hammer is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, where he was on the law review, and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Robert S. Handelsman, lawyer for RDR Books, is an attorney who has practiced in the Chicago area for 34 years and has many appeals in state and federal appellate court. A graduate of Chicago-Kent Law School, he focuses on federal question cases involving independent businesses.

Lizbeth Hasse, copyright consultant to RDR Books, is founding partner of the San Francisco-based Creative Industry Law Group. Her practice encompasses advising and negotiation in intellectual property, media, and entertainment matters. She was instrumental in mediating the recent Apple Computer v. Burst to settlement.


Amy Poftak
Assistant Director of Communications
Stanford Law School