Judge urges ‘Potter’ case to settle

Pleas with parties to handle out of court

J.K. Rowling and a publisher who wants to release an unauthorized lexicon to her Harry Potter novels should try to settle the copyright dispute out of court, a judge said Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson Jr. said the copyright infringement case was a legal close call, involving unresolved areas of American law, and was almost certain to end in years of appeals.

“I think this case, with imagination, could be settled,” Patterson said on the third day of the trial in Manhattan federal court.

The judge made a similar suggestion at the close of Tuesday’s court session. The lawyers for both sides have settled some sections of the suit, but appear to be resolved to continue the litigation.

Lawyers for Rowling and Warner Bros., which holds intellectual property rights to the Potter books and films, rested their case Wednesday morning, saying they believed they had proven that “The Harry Potter Lexicon” took too much copyrighted material from Rowling’s work.

The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Dale Margaret Cendali, said she still planned to call Rowling to the stand for a second time later in the trial to rebut testimony offered by the defendant, RDR Books.

So far, the trial has featured two days of emotional testimony, first by Rowling, then by the fan who wrote the unauthorized guide, former middle school librarian Steven Vander Ark.

The court has also heard from dueling experts from the publishing industry.

Suzanne Murphy, a vice president at Scholastic, which published the Harry Potter novels in the U.S., testified for the plaintiffs that the lexicon could find plenty of buyers, even though it is a somewhat “poor” book largely put together by fans.

The lexicon is mostly a print version of parts of an expansive Web site created by the 50-year-old Vander Ark. Assembled in just a month, it’s organized like an encyclopedia and includes lists of characters, creatures, places and spells from the novels.

Vander Ark’s publisher, RDR Books, solicited testimony from publishing consultant Bruce Harris, who said the book was likely to sell only a few thousand copies to dedicated Potter fans and presented no threat to Rowling’s sales.

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