Source: Times Online
Author: Anne Barrowclough in Sydney
J.K. Rowling is facing a multimillion-pound lawsuit after being accused of stealing
ideas for her Harry Potter series from the British author of another children's book.
The estate of the late Adrian Jacobs added the world's richest author as a defendant
to a lawsuit that alleges that a substantial part of Mr Jacob's 1987 book The Adventures
of Willy the Wizard: No 1 Livid Land was replicated in Harry Potter and the Goblet
of Fire, published 13 years later in July 2000.
Mr Jacobs' estate entered a lawsuit against Bloomsbury Publishing, publishers of
the Harry Potter series, in a London court last June. The suit claims that Mr Jacobs
used concepts and themes such as wizard prisons, wizard hospitals and wizard colleges
years before Ms Rowling did. The two authors also shared an agent, Christopher Little,
who manages the Harry Potter brand worldwide, according to the statement.
Ms Rowling strongly disputes the claims.
The Sydney agent Max Markson, who is representing Paul Allen, the Australian-based
trustee of Mr Jacobs' estate, said that Ms Rowling was added to the lawsuit after
Mr Allen learned that the statute of limitations to sue her had not run out, as previously
"I estimate it's a billion-dollar case," Mr Markson told The Times. "When you think
of all the money that's involved, I would say $1 billion is a conservative estimate."
The theme of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — a year of wizardry competition
— was identical to the theme of Willy the Wizard, he added. "If your child read Willy
the Wizard he would say to you, 'That's just like Goblet of Fire'," he said.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was the fourth of seven stratospherically successful
books about the boy wizard that have become a global brand worth an estimated £7
The last four Harry Potter books have consecutively set records as the fastest-selling
books in history, while the series has generated billions of dollars in film sales.
Mr Jacobs, on the other hand, sold only 5,000 of his Willy the Wizard book. A millionaire
businessman and lawyer, he died penniless in 1997, ten years after losing everything
in the 1987 stock market crash.
"He was a very clever man," Mr Markson said, "but he died in poverty in a hospice.
It was a terribly sad story."
Mr Jacobs used to tell friends' children stories about a boy wizard until he was
persuaded to turn the tales into a book, which he self-published. A friend of his
first noticed the similarities to Goblet of Fire in 2003 and Mr Jacob's estate approached
Bloomsbury with the plagiarism claims the following year, but it took another five
years before a lawsuit was brought against the publishing company.
In June Bloomsbury said that the allegation that Ms Rowling had plagiarised themes
from Mr Jacob's book was "unfounded, unsubstantiated and untrue". The publishing
company said at the time that Mr Jacobs' estate was unable to identify any text in
the Harry Potter books that was copied from Willy the Wizard.
In a statement Mr Allen said that the estate was also seeking legal advice on whether
the Harry Potter films and soon-to-be-opened Harry Potter theme park breached copyright
Ms Rowling is no stranger to copyright cases. In June 2008 she brought a lawsuit
against a Harry Potter encyclopedia that had formerly been a winner of the J.K. Rowling's
Fan Site Award, and which she had formerly admitted finding invaluable as a reference
book when she was checking her own work.
Asking a Manhattan court to block publication of The Harry Potter Lexicon on the
grounds that it had "plundered" her prose, Ms Rowling told the court: “Authors have
a right to protect their works from misuse. Do I have fewer rights because many people
read my books? If this book is published it will open the floodgates for anyone to
lift an author’s work and present it as their own.”
The result of the lawsuit was that the lexicon, written by a middle-aged former librarian,
could continue to be published, albeit in a modified form.
Ms Rowling said in a statement: “I am saddened that yet another claim has been made
that I have taken material from another source to write Harry. The fact is I had
never heard of the author or the book before the first accusation by those connected
to the author’s estate in 2004; I have certainly never read the book.
"The claims that are made are not only unfounded but absurd and I am disappointed
that I, and my UK publisher Bloomsbury, are put in a position to have to defend ourselves.
We will be applying to the Court immediately for a ruling that the claim is without
merit and should therefore be dismissed without delay.”