Court Hears Case About Potter-Like Books

AP, Mar. 25, 2003
http://www.heraldtribune.com/
By ANTHONY DEUTSCH, Associated Press Writer

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) – Cast away images of sorcerers soaring on broomsticks at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Picture instead lawyers bickering about copyright infringement in a drab, gray-carpeted courtroom.

That’s what remained of Harry Potter’s magic during a raw legal battle at an Amsterdam municipal court Tuesday in a case filed by British author J.K Rowling against a Russian writer alleged to have stolen her ideas.

Lawyers representing Rowling, her Dutch publisher Harmonie and the U.S. company Time Warner Entertainment are seeking to prevent the release in the Netherlands of a literary series about Tanya Grotter, the heroine of the Russian books who flies a magical double bass instead of a broomstick.

During three hours of dry legal argument, Russian author Dmitry Yemets was accused of “blatantly stealing” the Harry Potter story line, characters and plot for his books, which have already sold more than a million copies in Russia.

In April, Dutch publisher Byblos plans to release 7,000 copies of the first edition of the Russian books in what would be the first foreign publishing of the Grotter stories.

Rowling and Time Warner, which made the Harry Potter movies, alleged copyright and trademark infringement and plagiarism in their suit against the Amsterdam-based Byblos.

“Tanya Grotter is a Harry Potter clone,” said attorney Eric Keyzer, quoting from a Dutch newspaper headline that read: “Harry Potter’s Russian Sister Comes to Holland.” He cited another newspaper article in which Yemets reportedly admitted using Rowling’s “framework.”

While accepting the striking similarities between the books – their covers are virtually identical and show the main character flying through archways – a lawyer for Byblos rejected accusations of plagiarism and copyright violation, saying Grotter was an “entirely original character.”

“Tanya Grotter is clearly an independent, recognizable character with many similarities and many differences to Harry Potter,” said Marc de Leeuw.

He said the Grotter stories are a satire on Harry Potter with elements of Russian folklore that target an older audience able to pick up on “subtle parody and humor.”

He accused Rowling of taking ideas from “The Lord of The Rings,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Cinderella,” and several other fantasy stories.

Rowling herself was cleared of charges of plagiarism earlier this year after U.S. author Nancy Stouffer claimed Rowling had stolen ideas from her own children’s books, including stories about a boy named Larry Potter.

The Harry Potter stories “aren’t all that original and borrow a lot from earlier writers,” De Leeuw said.

But Rowling’s lawyers said there are more than just similarities and that Yemets “knowingly and openly” copied the leading 10 characters in the Harry Potter stories, only changing their names.

“Tanya Grotter is nothing more and nothing less than a free ride on Harry Potter’s back,” said lawyer Paul Reeskamp of Rowling’s legal team. Potential buyers of Harry Potter books and products could be confused into buying Grotter products, he said, effectively stealing money from the pockets of the merchandisers.

Several charts presented in court outlined the nearly identical backgrounds and characteristics of the leading figures: both orphans of murdered parents with magical powers who attend wizarding schools and have unusual scars on their faces. They wear glasses and fight evil with two close friends and a mentor.

A ruling in Potter vs. Grotter was scheduled at the municipal court in Amsterdam for April 3.

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