April 15, 2008 / 12:26 AM / 10 years ago

Author of rival Potter book cries in court

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The author of a Harry Potter encyclopedia cried on Tuesday as he told a New York court about his devotion to the series of books about the boy wizard and denied accusations by J.K. Rowling that he plagiarized her work.

<p>J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter book series, leaves the U.S. District Court in New York April 15, 2008. REUTERS/Joshua Lott</p>

Rowling and Warner Bros. are suing independent U.S. publisher RDR Books, which plans to publish “The Harry Potter Lexicon,” a 400-page reference book written by Steve Vander Ark. The book by the boyish-looking former librarian is based on his popular fan Web site, www.hp-lexicon.org.

Rowling, 42, told court on Monday that Vander Ark’s plans for an unofficial encyclopedic Harry Potter companion book and the stress of the lawsuit had stifled her creativity and caused her to stop work on a new novel.

On Tuesday Vander Ark, 50, wearing round spectacles similar to those worn by Harry Potter, said his Potter encyclopedia was merely a companion reference guide to help fans and readers and was intended to celebrate Rowling’s work.

With Rowling sitting directly in front of him with her lawyers, Vander Ark broke down in tears after more than three hours on the witness stand when asked if he still thought of himself as part of the Harry Potter fan club community.

“I do,” he said, trembling with tears and struggling to continue speaking. “It’s been difficult because there’s been a lot of criticism, obviously, but ... it has been an important part of my life for the last nine years or so.”

Rowling has called Vander Ark’s book, due to be published last November, “sloppy, lazy” work compared with other Harry Potter companion books already published. She said the other books added original commentary and criticism, unlike Vander Ark‘s.

Rowling, the British writer whose seven Harry Potter books have sold around 400 million copies, said she felt her work was being exploited. She said she wants to write her own encyclopedia, which would contain material that did not make it into the novels and the proceeds would be donated to charity.

In response to Vander Ark’s testimony, a spokesman for Rowling and Warner Bros. said in a statement: “A fan’s affectionate enthusiasm should not obscure acts of plagiarism. The publishers knew what they were doing.”

REQUEST FROM FANS

Earlier Vander Ark, who is based in London, said he had no choice but to use words similar to Rowling’s own descriptions in his lexicon due to having to define creatures from a work of fiction and not the real world.

Vander Ark said he wrote the book after requests from fans at a Harry Potter academic conference in Canada. He defended not using quotation marks and not listing Rowling as an author.

“It’s a reference book,” he said. “If I was writing a reference book to Shakespeare, I wouldn’t list Shakespeare.”

Rowling and Warner Bros. also seek damages for copyright and federal trademark infringement. Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc, which owns the copyright and trademark rights to the Potter books.

At times during his testimony, Vander Ark gushed about the “magical world” Rowling had created. Asked his thoughts on Rowling’s promised future encyclopedia, he replied, “I for one can’t wait to read it.”

Editing by Michelle Nichols and Cynthia Osterman

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