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J.K. Rowling faces another plagiarism suit

Once again, Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling faces charges of borrowing too generously from another writer's work.

By / February 18, 2010

Seth Wenig/AP

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Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling is again facing plagiarism charges. Her name has now been added as a defendant in a lawsuit against her publishers. The suit, being brought in a London court by the estate of the English children's author Adrian Jacobs, alleges that she lifted concepts – wizard contests, wizard prisons, wizard hospitals, and wizard colleges – from his 1987 book "The Adventures of Willy the Wizard: No. 1 Livid Land" and used them in writing "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire."

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The lawsuit was originally brought against Rowling's publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, and her agent, Christopher Little (who was also Jacobs's agent). The Jacobs estate apparently had thought it was too late to sue Rowling, as "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire" was published in 2000. But now, they say, they have discovered "legal cause of action against [Rowling] within the last six years."

The Jacobs estate is calling the lawsuit "a billion-dollar case."

It's not the first time that Rowling, estimated to be the world's wealthiest author, has had to defend herself against charges of plagiarism. One prominent case involved a 2002 suit brought by American author Nancy Stouffer who claimed that her character "Larry Potter" bore a striking resemblance to Rowling's "Harry Potter." Stouffer lost her case and an appeal three years later.

Library Journal writer Lauren Barack called it right while discussing plagiarism charges against Rowling last year. "Given the success of Rowling’s Potter series it seems unlikely that she’ll stop being a lightning rod for suits of this nature," Barack wrote. "While her stories are hugely popular, they do mirror many archetypes and story arcs found in popular tales."

Rowling has never cited a single author's works as the inspiration for Harry Potter. In interviews at different times she has mentioned sources as diverse as Chaucer, Shakespeare, and "The Narnia Chronicles" by C.S. Lewis as influential to her.

In the United States, courts make a distinction between "fair use" and copying when considering plagiarism cases. “There’s an opening in the monopoly of copyright,” Carrie Russell, director of the Program on Public Access to Information for the American Library Association’s Washington office, told Library Journal last year. “If people had a complete monopoly you would have to ask the holder for everything, even to quote from the book in a paper. It would restrict creativity.”

As for "The Adventures of Willy the Wizard," Rowling released a statement through a spokesperson saying, "I have certainly never read the book.”

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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