Copyright Claim Contra TriWizard Tournament

Bloomsbury faces Harry Potter copyright claim 15.06.09

Bloomsbury Publishing is being sued by the estate of children’s writer Adrian Jacobs over claims that J K Rowling “copied” his work in one of her Harry Potter books. The estate is also seeking a court order against Rowling for “pre-action disclosure” in order to determine whether to include her as a defendant.

The estate of Jacobs, who died “penniless in 1997”, has filed the complaint in the High Court and is seeking an injunction to prevent further sales of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and either damages or a share in the profits made by Bloomsbury. The allegation argues that the plot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, published in 2000, borrowed “substantial parts” from Jacobs’ lesser-known The Adventures of Willy the Wizard-No 1 Livid Land, published 10 years before the first Potter book came out.

According to a press statement issued by the Jacobs estate both books describe the adventures of a main character, “Willy” in Jacobs’ book and “Harry Potter”, who are wizards, who compete in a wizard contest which they ultimately win. Other similarities referred to in the claim include the idea of wizards travelling on trains.

It is also claimed that, at the time in trying to get his work published, Jacobs sought the services of a literary agent, Christopher Little, who later became Rowling’s literary agent. Jacobs’ book was ultimately published by Bachman and Turner in 1987. Jacobs became bankrupt following a stock market crash, dying penniless in 1997, a decade after his book was published.

It is not the first copyright claim made against Rowling. In 2002 a New York judge threw out a copyright claim submitted by Nancy Stouffer author of The Legend of Rah and the Muggles and Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly. She was fined $50,000 and ordered to pay costs.

Robin Fry, copyright expert from law firm Beachcroft LLP, said: “The mountain to climb is that the estate would need to prove that JK Rowling had access to – and copied substantially from – the 1987 book. Without that evidence, however close the plots seem to be, there’s no infringement. With over 200,000 books published every year in the UK, writers inevitably see copying when coincidence is more likely.”

Bloomsbury and Rowling have yet to comment.

Not quite as silly as the writer suing Stephenie Meyer because his novel had a wedding in it, a honeymoon on the beach, and a love scene — and so did her Breaking Dawn! — but it’s close.

Your thoughts?


  1. “Without that evidence, however close the plots seem to be, there’s no infringement. With over 200,000 books published every year in the UK, writers inevitably see copying when coincidence is more likely.”

    That quote seems to sum it all up.

  2. I found the website for Adrian Jacobs and his book. It has a whole page of links to passages from the book, under categories like wizard prisons, wizard trains, wizard chess, etc.

    None of them sound anything like anything in Harry Potter. None. The ideas are completely different and the writing style is completely different.

    If this suit is over Goblet of Fire, why has it taken them nine years to file? If there was infringement, wouldn’t it have made sense to file in a more timely manner than this? As sad as the story is about the author, who was once very successful in other pursuits but died penniless, that’s not a reason to claim that Rowling stole anything. Sounds to me like the son is trying to make money without working for it.

  3. Dave the Longwinded says

    We had a pretty decent little go at this about 2 months ago at The Hog’s Head.

    Pat, back in June, I checked out the site, too. I wondered at the time how much the site’s links and language was designed to insinuate copying by Rowling.

    Red Rocker did a quick comparison of key passages. The “similarities” are pretty ridiculous.

  4. Arabella Figg says

    In 1980, I wrote a story about a wizard, a giant, and a castle. I’m gonna be rich!

  5. Hey, I have an idea. Who can come up with the most ridiculous connection for lawsuit fodder?
    Here is my entry: This author should sue Meyer because his immensely popular book includes yellow-eyed creatures, someone who is sort of a wolf, and a character named Max. As a parent, Meyer would have certainly been exposed to–Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak! (snort, snort)
    Let the games begin!
    Seriously, there is an important point here about the differences between similarities and influences. And even influences, of course, are not necessarily causes for concern. But, sadly, the few authors who make a fabulous fortune become magnets for con-people of every stripe.

  6. Arabella Figg says

    This author should be sued because his 1960s epic involves animated corpse warrirors, a coming of age story, a self-playing harp, magic, more highly sentient animals, a valued “big book,” a tapestry, a special sword, “enchantresses,” and a “horcrux.” Sorry, Lloyd Alexander.

  7. L-I-T-I-G-A-T-I-O-N. In this case, the attempt to make money off someone who used ideas instead of words. Any similarities between words are merely coincidence .. obviously. Rather pathetic writing on the claimant’s part so I’m guessing there’s a little envy in there, too. As in, “Gee, what if my Dad had been as good as JKR? I’d be rich!” Sorry, he wasn’t.

    But it is rather interesting that the editor was the same. Perhaps JKR listened to criticism whilst the other did not?

    S-P-E-C-U-L-A-T-I-O-N … it’s what you get when your file the litigation.

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