'Harry Potter' publisher sued for alleged copyright infringement

A plagiarism fight involving two British authors of books about young wizards has crossed the pond.

A trustee of the estate of late author Adrian Jacobs filed a copyright infringement suit on Tuesday against Scholastic Inc., the U.S. publisher of the wildly popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. The trustee sued the British publishers of the series in 2009 and Rowling in 2010. Those cases are pending.

The latest suit, filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, alleges that Rowling copied themes from Jacob's "The Adventures of Willy the Wizard -- No 1 Livid Land" in her book "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire." "Willy the Wizard" was published in the United Kingdom in 1987, while "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was published in 2000. "Willy the Wizard" was not published in the United States. Jacobs died in 1997.

Scholastic said in a written statement on Wednesday that the claim was "completely without merit." The publisher pointed to a statement Rowling issued in February that she had not read "Willy the Wizard" and that the plagiarism claims were "absurd."

The lawsuit cites several similarities between the two books, including that the premise of both involves a yearlong wizard contest -- which both protagonists win.

"Both Willy and Harry, the featured wizards in the respective works, are required to deduce the exact nature of the central task in the competition," the complaint reads. "Both Willy and Harry uncover the nature of this central task covertly in a bathroom."

The complaint goes on to say that both tasks at the center of the wizard competition involve "rescuing hostages imprisoned by a community of half-human, half-animal creatures."

The suit claims that Jacobs originally approached literary agent Christopher Little -- who now represents Rowling -- about helping him find a publisher for "Willy the Wizard." In its statement, Scholastic refuted the claim that Little was Jacob's agent.

The suit asks, among other things, that Scholastic stop selling "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and destroy all of its copies of the book. It also asks that the publisher pay the plaintiff all profits derived from the book's sale. The plaintiff, trustee Paul Allen, is being represented by attorneys from Andrews Kurth in New York.

(Published by – July 15, 2010)

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