Willy the Wizard fails first leg of Triwizard Tournament: US case dismissed

As readers will know, we’ve been following the copyright cases brought by the Estate of Adrian Jacobs (Paul Allen) against J K Rowling and her publishers in the United Kingdom and, more recently, in the United States. Now, Judge Shira Scheindlin of the US District Court, New York has granted Scholastic summary judgment against Paul Allen. Unless appealed, this brings the US leg of the Willy the Wizard saga to a close.

Notwithstanding the claim from the Willy the Wizard camp that their book bears “startling similarities” to Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, Judge Scheindlin firmly disagreed, finding that both books were “very different” in style. It was further noted: “Indeed, a reading of the works unequivocally confirms that they are distinctly different in both substance and style, and ultimately engender very different visceral responses from their readers”.

Key differences, of course, include the size of the books (16 pages vs Rowling’s hefty 734), the type of wizards (adult v teenager), and the nature of the relevant contests (straight contest v tournament between rival schools of magic). We have discussed previously the challenges of this genre, in that many similar concepts prevail, and that copyright infringement in this context is likely to require proof that particular aspects of expression have been copied from the work in suit.

In dismissing the case, Judge Scheindlin did not use the language of “expression”, although the sentiments appear similar: “…the contrast between the total concept and feel of the works is so stark that any serious comparison between them strains credulity”.

The fate of the US proceedings differs from those currently before the High Court of England & Wales, where a summary judgment application recently survived – albeit with some reservations about ultimate prospects by the presiding judge – thereby enabling that case to go to a full trial in due course.

Those pursuing the case in the UK appear undeterred at present, referring with regret to Judge Scheindlin’s decision, but suggesting this has “no bearing” on the UK case, which will continue.

It will be interesting to see whether the High Court does take judicial notice of the US decision. True it is, the law between these jurisdictions is not the same. However, the underlying facts and basis for the claim are identical. From experience, it is rare for such matters to be completely ignored.

So, the Willy the Wizard camp now appear to be a step removed from capturing the Golden Snitch, although the Tournament will continue.


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