Harry Potter Fan Weeps On Stand During Rowling's Suit
NEW YORK (AP) _ A Harry Potter fan who wants to publish an encyclopedic guide to the popular fantasy novels broke down and cried on the witness stand Tuesday as he reluctantly faced off in federal court against his idol J.K. Rowling.
The British author is suing publisher RDR Books for copyright infringement over its plans to publish a "Harry Potter Lexicon" based on a Web site created by Steven Vander Ark, a 50-year-old from Michigan who counts himself among Rowling's most devoted readers.
Vander Ark wept openly when he was asked to reflect on what the case has done to his relationship with the community of Harry Potter fans. The former middle school librarian, who fell in love with the books in 1998 and has devoted years to studying them and indexing their content online, could barely speak.
"It's been ... it's been," he stammered, choking on his words. "It's been difficult because there has been a lot of criticism, obviously, and that was never the intention. ... This has been an important part of my life for the last nine years or so."
He said his only goal had been to celebrate Rowling, who he called a "genius."
Vander Ark testified on the second day of a trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan that has pitted his publisher, RDR Books, against Rowling and Warner Bros., the maker of the Harry Potter films and owner of intellectual property rights to the Potter books and movies.
Rowling and the media company are trying to prevent publication of the Lexicon, which RDR had sought to release last fall. Sales were delayed pending the outcome of the suit.
During her testimony on Monday, Rowling said the Lexicon, which contains many passages taken verbatim from her novels, "constitutes wholesale theft" of her work. She also said its publication would spoil plans for her own Potter encyclopedia.
In a statement Tuesday after Vander Ark testified, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Rowling said that Vander Ark's good intentions in creating the lexicon are irrelevant.
"A fan's affectionate enthusiasm should not obscure acts of plagiarism," it said.
In his hours of testimony Tuesday, Vander Ark came across as a fan whose boyish and unbridled love of the Potter story had taken a distressingly unexpected turn. He first fell in love with the books while working as a children's librarian at a Christian school. Over the years, he has read each of the books "30 or 40 times," as well as every article ever written about Rowling.
Since 2000, his major contribution to Potter fan literature has been a Web version of the Lexicon, one put together on a low budget and largely made up of lists of characters, spells and creatures from the books.
Vander Ark said the Web site was no money maker _ taking in less than $7,000 in advertising revenue over its lifetime _ and he intended it to be a hobby until he was approached last summer by RDR Books Publisher Roger Rapoport about putting out a printed version.
Vander Ark said he initially was against the idea, partly because he believed it would violate copyright law. Even after Rapoport assured him they could publish legally, he remained unsure and insisted on a contract clause in which RDR agreed to take on costs caused by any copyright lawsuit.
Rowling testified Monday that the characters she created are as dear as her children, and that the ordeal of the suit is draining her of the will to write. She said she does not expect to complete her own Potter encyclopedia for two to three years.
As for Vander Ark, his distress hasn't made him less prolific.
Recently, he moved to London, where he is working on two more books about the Harry Potter universe. He had also planned to work as a guide for a travel company giving Harry Potter-themed tours in Europe until the lawsuit caused him to back out.
Vander Ark also seems to have lost none of his passion.
His face lit up when an attorney for RDR books informed him that Rowling had complained that the Lexicon had given the wrong etymology for the door-opening charm "Alohomora."
Vander Ark had speculated that the word was a combination of the Hawaiian word "aloha" and the Latin word "mora." Rowling explained that the word actually came from a West African dialect.
"Really!" Vander Ark said, his eyes alight. "Sorry. That's very exciting stuff for someone like me."
The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday and last about a week. There is no jury; it will be decided by U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson Jr. At issue is whether there is enough interpretation and analysis in the lexicon to justify its use of Rowling's characters and language.
The trial comes eight months after the publication of Rowling's final book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." The seven books have been published in 64 languages, sold more than 400 million copies and produced a film franchise that has pulled in $4.5 billion at the worldwide box office.