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Orson Scott Card Blasts J.K. Rowling's Lawsuit 525

Wanker writes "In the wake of a lawsuit by J.K. Rowling against the author of a Harry Potter encyclopedia, the Greensboro Rhino Times has an article by Orson Scott Card blasting J.K. Rowling for 'letting herself be talked into being outraged over a perfectly normal publishing activity.' Orson Scott Card has hit the nail on the head. He understands that authors re-use each others' ideas all the time, and certainly Ender's Game gets its share of re-use. Did Rowling's success go to her head?" Card lays out (something like tongue-in-cheek) some of the similarities between the story in Ender's Game and in the Potter series: "A young kid growing up in an oppressive family situation suddenly learns that he is one of a special class of children with special abilities, who are to be educated in a remote training facility where student life is dominated by an intense game played by teams flying in midair, at which this kid turns out to be exceptionally talented and a natural leader." (And that's just to get started.)
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Orson Scott Card Blasts J.K. Rowling's Lawsuit

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  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday May 01, 2008 @02:53PM (#23266554) Journal
    Writers will always sue the pants off each other and sometimes even other sources! Always have, always will. It just depends on how big of an orc ... I mean ass they are. I think that Joseph Campbell's "The Hero with a Thousand Faces []" pointed out how, through one way or another, nearly everyone owes at least something to those who came before and the Monomyth. You want to write a good fiction story? Simply take Campbell's book and dump the Monomyth into some environment of today. If I may say so myself, Rowling is a few mousekateers short of a full Mickey Mouse group ... uh, I mean she's a few rhymes short of a full Cat in the Hat ... uh, I mean she's a few Knights Templar short of a full Da Vinci's Code ... that is to say she's a few crystals short of a Jedi Lightsaber ...

    Aw, christ, I'll just put my lawyer on speed dial.
    • Judge a lightsaber by its crystal, do you?
    • Well, this is ultimately why copyrights should be limited. Everyone borrows. Or, in the case of Disney, outright pilfers and then claims to own what they pilferred (say, Snow White or Cinderella).
      • Exactly. It's not possible to create anything without using the ideas of others. Every word is someone else's idea (unless you made it up yourself).

        So it's ridiculous to claim such broad ownership of derivative works.
    • by Chyeld ( 713439 )
      On one hand we are talking about borrowing ideas in broad strokes and molding them into your own 'unique' idea with seperate twists and different details.

      On the other hand we are talking about taking another's work, and simply taking all the details in it and compiling them into a work you call your own.

      It should also be noted that J.K. never had a problem with the encylopedia till the people who were running it decided to make a book out of it and sell it. When it was still a 'just' fan created work she ac
      • Were this J.K.'s only lawsuit I might believe you. Nox.
    • Mod parent up!

      You've hit the nail on the head. Damned near everything is derivative to one extent or another, and making commentaries of older stories, and even expanding them, is a tradition likely as old as humanity itself. Unfortunately, in this age of inviolate intellectual property rights, the storyteller has become more important than the story.

      Rowling's case is a little different in that her publicist and publishing company have created something of a cult of personality among her fans (most of whi
      • The reason this is where it's at is because Rowling has said several times over the years that there will only be 7 books and IF she were to do more relating to Harry & Co it would be an encyclopedia of sorts with extra character information, dropped characters and plot lines, etc. And around the time the 6th and 7th books were being written and published she hinted on her site and in interviews that the likelihood of this happening was growing by the day.

        She's said that if there was to be something
      • J.K. Rowling is the 2nd Richest woman in entertainment, beat out only by Opera, and IIRC she's also considered to be the most successful author ever. Hard to argue when she holds the record for fastest selling book in history, and i know that at least the last 3 books were on the New York Times bestsellers list months before their release. Add in the royalties from the movies and merchandise and she has quite the little empire.

        At least according to Entertainment magazine []
    • "If I see farther than other men, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants." -Isaac Newton

      He is not, in fact, the first man to say that! [] (WP doesn't mention the quote stolen by the far more famous Newton). The fact is that all art is based on previous art.
    • There seems to be a bright line between "borrowing general themes and ideas - which are morbidly few in number" and encroaching on the "Real Names" of particular characters after they have been proven commercial success. One has to ask, is this "Harry Potter Enc" a new and novel work, or merely a recombination of exact quotes from the single most successful fiction series (short of the King James Bible) in history?

      Let a million writers resurrect the Genre of heroes flying in clouds, the liberal application
  • Which jerk am I supposed to be rooting for in this story? Card had one good book decades ago and has been riding its success ever since.

    • Which jerk am I supposed to be rooting for in this story? Card had one good book decades ago and has been riding its success ever since.

      The one who understands copyright law.
    • Card had one good book decades ago and has been riding its success ever since.

      And that makes him a jerk how, exactly ?
    • One good book? Personally I would consider enders game to be one of Cards WORST efforts. Not terrible , but not his best.

      The sequels and the parallel to the original story is where the real character development and writing style is found. Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind are MUCH more thought provoking and easier to identify with. The characters become much more real, and less OMG DBZ SUPERSAIJANTIME-esk.

      His parallel with Enders Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, and Shadow Puppets focu
      • by Sosarian ( 39969 )
        You're seriously saying that Xenocide is better with it's deus-ex machina ending? The rest of it may have been good, but the ending is horrible.
    • Enchantment: good take on the sleeping beauty myth.
      Lost Boys: great story about a man's family life, moving, and dealing with loss.
      Shadow Series: every one of them has moments that are as good as Ender's Game and the series as a whole has a lot more to offer.
      Maps in a Mirror: short stories ranging from mildly interesting to better than Bradbury's. The best one is Unaccompanied Sonata, probably the best short story I've ever read.

      There are more books he's written, and I've found most of them are prett
      • the only difference between him and at least 75% of slashdot is that when he yells, people listen.
        And the vast majority of them facepalm afterwards.
      • The best one is Unaccompanied Sonata, probably the best short story I've ever read.

        I can only assume then that your only experience in reading short stories has been from popular science fiction authors similar to Card. Have you read no short stories from the Western canon, or from science fiction authors acclaimed for their literary stylings like Gene Wolfe?

  • by weston ( 16146 ) * <westonsd&canncentral,org> on Thursday May 01, 2008 @03:00PM (#23266644) Homepage
    Because he's really not that great at commentary.

    The Lexicon authors may well be within their rights to have produced that work, but not for reasons that are based in the rather tortured screed he's offering up.

    So... one can find parallels between many good stories. Does that automatically erode all intellectual property claims? Does it even directly relate to the specific claims in the Rowling suit? Hardly.

    So... Card has publicly admitted on at least one occasion where he's borrowed from someone else. And he also tells people in his books when a character is gay! Look how much of a better person he is than Rowling!

    And this dig is pure malice:

    " The difference between us is that I actually make enough money from Ender's Game to be content, without having to try to punish other people whose creativity might have been inspired by something I wrote."

    Yeah, Orson. That quote just *oozes* personal security with what you've done.

    Ask yourself this: after reading the piece, which do you have a clearer understanding of:

    (1) Copyright and other intellectual property law
    (2) Which particulars Rowling is invoking and where her case goes wrong
    (3) How disgusted Orson Scott Card is with Rowling

    I'm seeing a lot of #3 and not very much of #1 or #2.

    If the suit lowers the dignity of Rowling, Card seems perfectly ready to sacrifice his own by basically marshalling the resources of his talents.... to call Rowling a poopyhead.

    • by sm62704 ( 957197 )
      So... Card has publicly admitted on at least one occasion where he's borrowed from someone else.

      It's called "honesty". Sometimes you borrow from someone else and twist or expand it. Now, I'm no great author; in fact I personally think I suck at writing but I enjoy doing it and a few people enjoy reading it, so I do it anyway.

      I seem to be having tremendous difficulties with my lifestyle. []

      Oh, I'm sorry. I seem to be plagiarizing. Please let me correct that. The above sentence comes from chapter 31 of The Hitch

  • I think the essence is summed up in this snippet of the article:

    "Rowling has nowhere to go and nothing to do now that the Harry Potter series is over. After all her literary borrowing, she shot her wad and she's flailing about trying to come up with something to do that means anything."

    I tend to agree. I think she's being a huge self absorbed twit over this whole thing.
  • For what the court has to say. Not that I like either OSC or JKR, in fact I can't stand either author.
  • by seasleepy ( 651293 ) <> on Thursday May 01, 2008 @03:04PM (#23266702)
    Card is missing the point here. This isn't about reuse. Rowling certainly doesn't have problems with reuse... How many HP companion/related type books are there out there?

    So obviously there's something going on in this case that's different than the others. This is even more obvious when you consider that Rowling was quite happy to have the text in question available on the Internet.

    It's that there's a possibility that the Lexicon may use far too much of the original text to be considered an original work for publishing purposes. Apparently Rowling considers this to be the case.

    So it comes down to the old, "it's all right with me if it's up for free, but when you want to start charging for it, I'm going to have to come down on you."
    • So it comes down to the old, "it's all right with me if it's up for free, but when you want to start charging for it, I'm going to have to come down on you."

      Seems to me that's a pretty fair brightline between 'fan' and 'competitor'.

  • Scott has it wrong (Score:3, Informative)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <> on Thursday May 01, 2008 @03:05PM (#23266706) Journal
    Although I do believe that he is right that if Rowling had a problem with this material, she should have done something about it years ago... the real problem here isn't personal greed, it's that she was planning on producing a similar encyclopedia herself, with all the proceeds going to charity, and this publication will conflict with that interest so that's why she is trying to stop it.
    • Orson... not Scott.
    • Disagree. Whether she was planing (or claiming to plan) to make something similar should have ZERO to do with the legality of this. Otherwise, I could just claim that I'm _planning_ to make a for-charity product for whatever I don't want you to make. It'd be a stupid precedent to set.
      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        Of course it should. I agree with what you are saying completely. I'm just saying what the factors are in why she's making a stink about this particular case when she never had any problem with anything else remotely similar previously. Is it brought about by personal greed? Not remotely... Is it immature? Highly.
  • ... but I find Card's article pretty unpalatable, more so than Rowling's case, although I am not a great fan of that.

    Creating a book who's plot is in various vague ways similar to a previous book is not the same in my opinion as selling a product which only makes money because it uses the exact same characters and names in its marketing.

    Rather than a black and white issue, I think we have a continuum. Let's look at one extreme end - would it have been OK if the Hollywood Harry Potter films had been produced
  • The enemy's quidditch goal is down?
  • No, seriously. She's a huge douchebag, a total control freak when it comes to Harry Potter. For example, I've heard she specifically won't allow a Harry Potter RPG to be made, because she wouldn't be able to control the sorts of stories run in it.
    • She's a control freak because she won't sell out her creation to make money by licensing it for an RPG?

      What a jerk.

      I'm glad there are people like Rowling and Watterson in publishing who will not allow themselves to pimp their creative works for licensing revenue.
  • by ancarett ( 221103 ) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @03:18PM (#23266894)
    As an academic who's written critical works on contemporary media, I'm all for fair use and the freedom for fans or opponents to employ some material in their own work. But that isn't what this proposed Lexicon is, in truth.

    This isn't fair use (news reporting, educational or criticism, although the publisher tries to pretend the latter) or transformative in any way: van der Ark's Lexicon is a summary of elements in the work. That means that, as a secondary work about Harry Potter, this is much more akin to the Castle Rock case []: copying fragments of the work.

    More significantly, Rowling was planning to publish her own encyclopedia to the Harry Potter world as one of her charitable publications (like some of the other guidebooks she's produced), while this work is taking the unpaid labour of countless fans who contributed to the Lexicon website and turning it to the personal profit of the site's disgruntled owner (who's cranky because his good buddy "Jo" wouldn't give him a paying job in the UK to edit her own encyclopedia).

    The whole imbroglio has been amply covered by the helpful souls at Fandom Wank [] if you want to get a feel for what others besides OSC have said. (Anne Rice has even weighed in!)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Of course, derivative, unofficial "guides" to books, series, etc. have been allowed for years, even in the face of legal action. How many unofficial Star Trek reference books have there been? Tolkien? Babylon 5? Buffy? Not even the lousy fanfic (or, as I like to call it, "fanfic"), but episode guides, plot outlines, character names, etc. That's pretty clearly allowed. The question is whether this went over the line. Even if it did, it would have to be in a very specific way, wouldn't it? However, it seems l
  • Uncle Orson Reviews Everything
    J.K. Rowling, Lexicon and Oz

    by Orson Scott Card

    April 24, 2008
    Can you believe that J.K. Rowling is suing a small publisher because she claims their 10,000-copy edition of The Harry Potter Lexicon, a book about Rowling's hugely successful novel series, is just a "rearrangement" of her own material.

    Rowling "feels like her words were stolen," said lawyer Dan Shallman.

    Well, heck, I feel like the plot of my novel Ender's Game was stolen by J.K. Rowling.

    A young kid growing up in an op
  • this one []. People are complicated critters.
  • Is Card describing his August 1977 novelette "Ender's Game" or the May 1977 movie "Star Wars"?
  • The only appropriate reply, after reading that, is: "SheGotOwned!"
  • listen to Orson Scott Card on the topic of ethics. *yikes*
  • I didn't realize Orson Scott Card had literary respect, I mean Ender's Game was pretty good, but Heinlein, Dick, Asimov, Clarke, and Herbert all wrote several books that were much better than Ender's Game. That said JK Rowling ranks alongside Tom Clancy in my opinion. Fun to read once, but very little depth in the text.
  • The other day, I came up with a program that helps put words on paper with the help of a computer.
    Problem is, Microsoft already did it a while ago, and called their program "Word."

    What do you think... could they sue me for copyright infringement? (Or could the many predecessors to Word sue MS?)

    I have to admit I don't know enough of the facts to render final judgment, but I have been a fan of both the site and the books for some time now. From what I understand, hp-lexicon wants to publish, and profit fro

  • 'funnier-than-i-thought-he'd-be department'? well, fun trivia - Scott Card wrote the original sword fighting insults for Monkey Island...
  • She should be so ashamed of herself as to never utter (or write) a word in public ever again. She went from being a single mother barely paying her bills to a multi-billion aire in the matter of a few years. Now she's pissed that a few other people, who are fans of her work, will make maybe a few thousand?

    What a complete and utter bitch.
  • It's like her stupid, self-serving claim that Dumbledore was gay. She wants credit for being very up-to-date and politically correct - but she didn't have the guts to put that supposed "fact" into the actual novels, knowing that it might hurt sales.

    I was really confused when I heard people mention this, I didn't read the children's books so I don't know. But that seems like pretty spot-on to me. I'm not sure how it would affect sales though since any of those people who object to homosexuality would most li

  • by PhysicsPhil ( 880677 ) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @03:50PM (#23267280)
    Findlaw did an interesting legal commentary on the lawsuit (by an actual lawyer, no less), located at []. I provide a summary (in my best fair-use language) below.

    It seems there are four issues that are looked at in cases where fair use exceptions are claimed as a defense: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the copyrighted work, the portion of material used in relation to the original work and finally the effect on the potential market.

    The author of the article wrote that typically in analysis of the purpose and character of use, the derivative work involves some extension or transformation. There isn't likely to be much in a lexicon or encyclopedia, so this should cut in favour of Rowling. The author did point out that an analysis of mistakes and plot inconsistencies would involve substantial extension and so could well have a valid defense

    With regards to the nature of the copyrighted work, Rowling's books are original pieces of writing (although perhaps not great literature). This is the kind of stuff that copyright is meant to defend, so this is likely to cut in Rowling's favour also.

    The article argues that it is the final two issues that the lexicon's author may have traction on. The amount and importance of the portion of work used seems to be the X-factor. The lexicon will no doubt copy a significant amount of material from the Rowling originals but use it in small pieces and put it in a completely context. The author figured this would break on a judge-by-judge basis. One that read the copyright act literally would fall in favour of Rowling, while a judge considering the overall purpose would not.

    Finally there was the question of the effect on the potential market. Certainly a lexicon would damage sales of an official Rowling lexicon, but the author felt (and I would agree) that a Rowling original would likely be a bigger draw for readership. Rowling has access to more material than anyone, and her encyclopedia would likely be a better piece of work for a collector. The author figured that Rowling's claim here was weak.

    All-in-all, it sounded like who gets selected as judge would play a major role in the result. It is possible that some uses may be fine (a detailed analysis of inconsistencies and mistakes, for example) while other uses may have to be deleted (e.g. an encyclopedic or dictionary-type use).
  • by laura20 ( 21566 ) on Thursday May 01, 2008 @05:31PM (#23268432) Homepage
    ...why am I not surprised?

    To clarify:

    The Lexicon website consisted for the most part of entries where the editors had gone through the books, chopped out the various bits describing the element at hand and plopped them in the entry. The amount of straight quoting was huge, the amount of barely reworded items possibly even larger. Let's go to Dave Langford [] for a typical wordcount: "When I checked, the on-line Lexicon's 1500 words on Albus Dumbledore had about 300 words of direct quotation from Rowling (which seemed risky) and linked to a page with some 3000 words of quotes (which seemed suicidal)." This is certainly very useful to fanfic authors, and as long as it was noncommercial, Rowlings quite kindly tolerated it.

    Then in a perfect storm of stupidity, RDR Books decided that obviously this meant they could publish it at 24.95 a pop. Rowlings and her publishers said "uh, no". I'll note that they spent two months trying to get a manuscript out of RDR or Steve Vander Ark, and were informed that they should "just hit print on the website." Yes, the website that *mostly consisted of quotes and rewordings*. Eventually they realized how suicidal that was, and produced a hacked down manuscript that *still* took large amounts straight from her wording.

    And like most bad lawsuits, it'll make bad law. If she wins, other publishers and authors will no doubt push the boundaries to claim that any kind of encyclopedia of their fictional universes is unlawful, even if the writers actually do their own work; and if she loses (highly unlikely, but if) other authors will feel like they need to be a bitch to every online effort of this sort, lest they be seen as authorizing similar publishings -- one of the claims that RDR/SVA made was that by tolerating it, she was authorizing it.
  • by jandersen ( 462034 ) on Friday May 02, 2008 @03:26AM (#23271970)
    Like it or not, isn't this exactly what copyright law was intended to protect: the right of an artist to profit from their own creative work? The motivation being that they more than other people depend on their creativity and the fame that follows for their livelyhood.

    Whether this is the right way is an altogether different issue, and perhaps not one that is as clearcut as we would imagine. In recent years we have seen how both copyright and patent rules have been abused to hurt the free market, so I think it is time we made some serious changes to the whole IP concept. Perhaps the Open Commons idea is the way to proceed - something where a creative mind case establish a name and a reputation and which can serve as a basis for earning a living.

    In many ways I don't think works of creativity should be anybody's property. The very essence of ownership is to exclude others from what you own, which in the case of works of art will mean that fewer get to enjoy it, and also dimishes the creativity, both of the 'owner' and of others who might have been inspired by it.

The shortest distance between two points is under construction. -- Noelie Alito