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J.K Rowling Succeeds in Copyright Infringement Case

By Barry Werbin

On Jan. 6, Judge Shira Scheindlin rejected a copyright suit brought by Paul Gregory Allen, as Trustee for the Estate of Adrian Jacobs, against Scholastic, alleging that J.K. Rowling's 4th Harry Potter novel, published in 2000, copied parts of a 1987 book about a character named Willy the Wizard, which was published in the UK in 1987. The court found that no reasonable trier of fact could find any substantial similarities between the works at a copyright level.

What is particularly interesting from an infringement litigation perspective is that the court, after reading the books and engaging in a "detailed examination of the works themselves," granted Scholastic's motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) at the outset of the case before any factual discovery record was developed. On this point, Judge Scheindlin noted that: "'When a court is called upon to consider whether the works are substantially similar, no discovery or fact-finding is typically necessary, because what is required is only a visual comparison of the works.' Thus, while the question of substantial similarity often presents a close issue of fact that must be resolved by a jury, district courts may determine non-infringement as a matter of law 'either because the similarity between two works concerns only non-copyrightable elements of the plaintiffs work, or because no reasonable jury, properly instructed, could find that the two works are substantially similar.'"

The court emphasized that the contrast between the "total concept and feel" of the two works - a test particularly appropriate given that the two works targeted children - was "so stark that any serious comparison of the two strains credulity." Just one example was the comparative lengths of the two works - 734 and 16 pages, respectively. Significant differences also were found in the works' "structure, mood, details and characterization" and other general similarities were expected under the scenes a faire doctrine.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on January 10, 2011 9:45 PM.

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