Friday, October 12, 2007

A Copyright Owner's Castle

There have been a number of stories about a petition filed by author J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers in the Delhi High Court seeking about $50,000 from a group that erected a recreation of Hogwarts Castle as a pandal, an elaborately crafted temporary structure, in conjunction with the Durga Puja religious festival honoring, as the name indicates, the Hindu Goddess Durga. There are also reportedly life-sized models of Harry Potter and other characters as well as a mock steam engine train that resembles the Hogwarts Express. See here.

Warner Brothers is said to have released this statement:

Sadly, the organizers of this large-scale commercially sponsored event did not approach us for permission to go ahead. This event falls outside the guidelines set up by Warner Bros., JK Rowling and her publishers to help charitable and not-for-profit organizations to run small-scale themed events that protect fans and allow everyone to enjoy Harry Potter books, films and events in the spirit in which they were created.
There is supposedly a hearing today on the matter, which will be governed in its infringement issues by Indian copyright law. Here is a link to a very well done summary of Indian Copyright Law put out by the Indian Department of Secondary & Higher Education, and here is a link to the Indian Copyright Office website, which has links to various texts.

There are many wonderful copyright issues in the case: for example, does the literary copyright owned by Ms. Rowling extend to the making of three-dimensional structures like a pandal or a mock steam engine, or even the visual depiction in their details of the characters she created? The existence of copyright for literary characters in the U.S. -- apart from the copyright in the novel in which they appear -- is not an easy matter to achieve, and was raised for the first time in the Sam Spade case, Warner Bros. Pictures Inc. v. CBS, Inc., 216 F.2d 945 (9th Cir. 1954), which spoke of a character that "really constitutes the story being told" (protectible) as compared to a character who "is only the chessman in the game of telling the story" (unprotectible). This decision was criticized by Judge Posner as "wrong," Gaiman v. McFarlane, 360 F.3d 644, 660 (7th Cir. 2004).

One would hope that the question of literary authorship for characters would be governed by the same standards as all other works. What the law is in India, I do not know. The rights of Warner Bros. are a different matter since those rights, which flow from Ms. Rowling, are in audiovisual works and therefore include visual depictions.

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