Court conjures ‘Potter’ protection

Stouffer's trademarks, copyrights not infringed, sez ruling

A lengthy copyright battle over the Harry Potter books came to an end Tuesday when a New York court granted summary judgment in favor of Potter author J.K. Rowling, publisher Scholastic Inc. and Warner Bros., which owns the film rights to the children’s book and film series.

The court ruled that author Nancy Stouffer’s trademarks and copyrights had not been infringed.

U.S. District Court judge Allen Schwartz ordered that Stouffer be enjoined from claiming that she owns rights in the “muggle” trademarks or that her intellectual property rights were violated. In an unusual move, Schwartz also imposed sanctions of $50,000 on Stouffer and ordered her to pay a portion of legal fees and costs incurred by Rowling, Scholastic and Warners. The court found that Stouffer had altered evidence to bolster her claims.

Rallying ’round Rowling

“Warner Bros. is deeply gratified by the court’s ruling, which unequivocally affirms that J.K. Rowling alone created the extraordinary and universally beloved Harry Potter,” said Alan Horn, president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros.

“We never had any doubt that Harry Potter and his world came from the rich and extraordinary imagination of J.K. Rowling,” said Barbara Marcus, president of Scholastic Books. “We are very pleased that the Court’s decision has now confirmed what we knew all along.”

“Ms. Rowling is thrilled to have been vindicated so clearly,” said Christopher Little,Rowling’s agent. “Once and for all Nancy Stouffer’s unfounded claims and unscrupulous attempts to exploit Harry’s success have been exposed for what they are — totally bogus and malicious accusations. It is unfortunate that this confirmation of reality had to come through litigation and after hurtful public maligning of Ms. Rowling by Ms. Stouffer.”

Scholastic filed suit in 1999 seeking a declaration that the Harry Potter series did not infringe Stouffer’s copyrights and trademarks and to bar her from making false claims of authorship.

Stouffer, claiming she wrote a book called “The Legend of Rah and the Muggles,” published in 1984, counterclaimed, alleging that characters and other elements of her book are extraordinarily similar to characters appearing in the Harry Potter series, which was first published in the U.K. in 1997.

In his opinion, Schwartz noted that Stouffer produced a booklet in 1984 called “Rah and Myn and Memory Mountain,” a story about muggles. In Stouffer’s booklet, muggles are tiny, hairless creatures who understand all languages. Readers of Harry Potter know muggles as another name for ordinary humans beings who lack the power of witchcraft.

An advertisement for the “Rah” booklet did mention the word muggles, but the copy of the adverstisement that was submitted to the court was altered to emphasize the word. Stouffer also claimed she created a coloring-book version of a title “Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lily” about a boy who is sad because he has to wear eyeglasses. It was not published.

In ruling that there was no copyright infringement, Schwartz found there was no evidence that Rowling ever saw Stouffer’s booklet and that there was not substantial similarity between the works.

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