A Harry Potter fan who wants to publish an encyclopedic guide to the wildly popular fantasy novels broke down and cried on the witness stand Tuesday as he faced off in federal court against his idol J.K. Rowling.
The British author sued Steven Vander Ark's publisher RDR Books last year, claiming that their "Harry Potter Lexicon" — based on Vander Ark's fan Web site — infringed on her copyright.
Vander Ark wiped away tears when he was asked to reflect on what the case has done to his relationship with the community of Harry Potter fans. The former middle school librarian, who fell in love with the books in the late 1990s and has devoted years to studying them and indexing their content online, could barely speak.
"It's been ... it's been," he stammered, choking on his words. "It's been difficult because there has been a lot of criticism, obviously, and that was never the intention. ... This has been an important part of my life for the last nine years or so."
Vander Ark testified on the second day of a trial in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, pitting his publishing company, RDR Books, against Rowling and Warner Bros., the maker of the Harry Potter films and owner of all the intellectual property related to the Potter books and movies.
Rowling and the media company are trying to prevent publication of the "Harry Potter Lexicon," which Vander Ark and Michigan-based RDR had sought to publish last fall. Its release was delayed pending the outcome of the suit; Rowling has argued that the book borrows too heavily from her novels.
During his testimony on Tuesday, Vander Ark acknowledged that he, too, had substantial concerns all along about whether publishing an encyclopedia based on Rowling's Potter universe would constitute copyright infringement. He said he was talked into doing it by the publishing company.
Rowling, testified Monday that the Harry Potter characters she created are as dear as her children, too precious to allow an inferior Potter encyclopedia to be published without letting the world know the ordeal is draining her of her will to write.
"I believe that it is sloppy, lazy and that it takes my work wholesale, verbatim. This book constitutes wholesale theft of 17 years of my hard work," she said of Vander Ark's effort.
She also said she recently started work on her own encyclopedia but does not expect to complete it for two to three years. If Vander Ark's lexicon is published, "I'm not at all convinced that I would have the will or the heart to continue with my encyclopedia," she said.
The case caused her to stop working on a new novel, as well, she told the packed courtroom.
"It's really decimated my creative work over the last month," she said. "Again, it's very hard to describe to someone who's not engaged in creative writing, but you lose the threads, you worry if you will be able to pick them up again in exactly the same way."
In his opening statement, RDR lawyer Anthony Falzone defended the lexicon as a reference guide, calling it a legitimate effort "to organize and discuss the complicated and very elaborate world of Harry Potter." The small publisher is not contesting that the lexicon infringes upon Rowling's copyright but argues that it is a fair use allowable by law for reference books.
The nonjury trial will be decided by U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson Jr., who must determine whether the use of the material is legal because Vander Ark added his own interpretation, creativity and analysis. The testimony and arguments could last most of the week.
The trial comes eight months after the publication of Rowling's final book in the series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows." The seven books have been published in 64 languages, sold more than 400 million copies and produced a film franchise that has pulled in $4.5 billion at the worldwide box office.