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Thread: Harry Potter and the International Order of Copyright

  1. #1
    FORT Fogey
    Join Date
    Feb 2003

    Harry Potter and the International Order of Copyright

    Harry Potter and the International Order of Copyright

    Should Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass be banned?

    By Tim Wu

    June 27, 2003, slate.com


    If you're a serious Harry Potter fan, you finished The
    Order of the Phoenix over the weekend and are already
    impatient for the sixth book. While you wait (and wait) for
    it, how about trying some of the international versions of
    Potter? In China last year, it was easy to buy the unusual
    Potter sequel Harry Potter and Leopard- Walk-Up-to-Dragon,
    in which Harry encountered sweet and sour rain, became a
    hairy troll, and joined Gandalf to re-enact scenes from The
    Hobbit. The book, while credited to J.K. Rowling, wasn't
    authorized or written by her, but that didn't prevent it
    from selling like butterbeer.

    Meanwhile, in Russia, you can still meet Harry's Slavic
    twin: "Tanya Grotter," star of Tanya Grotter and the Magic
    Double Bass. Tanya rides a double bass, sports a mole
    instead of a bolt of lightning, and attends the Tibidokhs
    School of Magic. In an interview with journalist Steve
    Gutterman, author Dmitry Yemets called her "a sort of
    Russian answer to Harry Potter," and described his books as
    "cultural competition" for the original. Grotter is a hit:
    Yemets has already sold more than 1 million copies. And
    next door in Belarus you'll find Porri Gatter and the Stone
    Philosopher. In something of a departure, Harry's
    Belarussian clone wields a grenade launcher and re-fights
    the White Russian wars.

    You're unlikely to be able to get your hands on any of
    these works, since J.K. Rowling and her publisher have
    launched an aggressive worldwide legal campaign against the
    unauthorized Potter takeoffs. It began last year when
    Rowling and Time-Warner threatened the publishers of
    Chinese Potter, who agreed to stop publication. On April 4
    of this year, Rowling persuaded a Dutch court to block the
    import of Tanya Grotter to Holland. Harry Potter in
    Calcutta, in which Harry meets up with various characters
    from Bengali literature, was recently pulled by its Indian
    publisher under threat. Potter takeoffs have become
    international contraband.

    Rowling's ability to stop the Potter pretenders is largely
    a function of the new regime of international copyright.
    Until recently, countries varied considerably in how they
    protected literary works, especially works from abroad. The
    United States, for instance, has a long history of
    providing less protection than the Europeans. Benjamin
    Franklin was a kind of pirate: He did good business as a
    printer of unlicensed English writing. In the 19th century,
    the United States generally refused to recognize foreign
    copyrights, allowing American readers to get the latest
    Dickens and Doyle cheaply. And the borrowing of characters
    itself has a longer tradition. For example, the princess we
    know as Cinderella originally hails from China, where she
    goes by the name Yeh-Shen and relies for help on a magic
    fish who gives her golden slippers.

    Today, nations still maintain and enforce their own
    copyright laws, but for members of the World Trade
    Organization (that is, nearly everyone that matters), those
    statutes must meet extensive minimum standards. Under the
    Trade Related International Property treaty, original
    authors "enjoy the exclusive right of authorizing
    adaptations, arrangements and other alterations of their
    works." In other words, there is little scope for secondary
    authors to write local adaptations of the Potter-clone
    variety, since their country must abide by the
    international norms guaranteeing Rowling's monopoly
    everywhere. The result: Rowling can use the courts in WTO-
    compliant countries to club her Potter rivals.

    You might think it a good thing that Rowling can stop the
    Potter cloning industry, whether it is in Brighton,
    Bangalore, or Bratislava. Who wants to see Harry turned
    into a hairy troll or forced to gallivant with foreign
    literary figures? But on closer examination the argument
    for letting Potter crush his international competition is
    quite weak.

    The case for preventing literal copying-in which a foreign
    publisher simply reprints a work without permission-is
    strong. But Potter follow-ons are different from the
    American Dickens piracy of the 19th century and DVD piracy
    of today. Literal copies are what come out when you use a
    photocopier. Potter's takeoffs are different: They either
    borrow characters and put them in a new, foreign context
    (Potter in Calcutta) or just use the themes and ideas of
    Potter (as in Tanya Grotter's case) as inspiration for a
    different kind of story. They aren't a direct replacement
    for a Potter book, the way a literal copy is, but rather a
    supplement or an adaptation.

    One of the main justifications for a unified and strong
    global copyright system is that it is supposed to
    facilitate international trade. That's why it's a part of
    the WTO system. But as trade economists will tell you,
    trade often works when countries imitate and improve the
    inventions of others. America invents the hi-fi, Sony turns
    it into the Walkman, and then Chinese companies make still
    cheaper imitations.

    This is basically what's going on in the world of Harry
    Potter. The English original is clearly the best. The
    imitators aren't as good but are cheaper and come out much
    more frequently (there are already three Tanya Grotter
    books). There is, in short, a secondary Potter market.
    Isn't this the international trading system at its best?

    Moreover, the writers of secondary Potters are probably
    better at creating versions of Potter suited to local
    conditions. According to Reuters, at least some Russian
    children prefer Tanya Grotter to Harry, some on account of
    her Russian name. Local writers do things to Harry that
    Rowling can't, like introducing him to local literary
    figures and putting him in local wars. It may be good and
    it may be bad, but it's a market failure to prevent it.

    Potter's publishers, in defense of strong global copyright,
    would say that works like Tanya Grotter are theft, and such
    theft destroys the incentive to write in the first place.
    But the incentives argument is surprisingly unpersuasive in
    the international setting. To say Rowling will stop writing
    for fear of international parody is a difficult case to
    make. Only the most famous and lucrative works are parodied
    overseas. If an international adaptation is a sign you've
    made it rich, how can it be a serious financial deterrent
    for new writers?

    The truer complaint is that Potter's overseas competitors
    may mean slightly less profit for Rowling and her
    publishers. It is also true that Burger King means slightly
    less profit for McDonald's. You could say that Burger King
    and Wendy's stole the idea of a fun, plastic burger joint
    from McDonald's and are unfairly profiting from their evil
    deed. But when it comes to burger joints, we accept that
    the consequence of a competitive market is less profit for
    the first mover (McDonald's). Copyright should be no
    different. So long as it provides Rowling sufficient
    incentive to write, it should strive to maintain as much
    competition and facilitate as much international trade as

    It is also true that these rip-off works make authors angry
    and may tarnish the reputation of the character. But what
    makes authors angry is precisely what they are least likely
    to write, and therefore often what copyright needs to
    permit. For example, in 1989 the rap group 2 Live Crew
    recorded an obscene version of Roy Orbison's song "Pretty
    Woman." Orbison's "Pretty Woman" became, successively, "big
    hairy woman," "bald woman," and eventually, "two-timin'
    woman." There was little question that it made Orbison's
    estate angry, tarred the reputation of the original, and
    was a commercial competitor that threatened Orbison's
    profits. But the U.S. Supreme Court found it a parody: a
    non-infringing fair use. The faux Potter books are not
    quite parodies, but they're similar. Just as refusing 2
    Live Crew permission to parody would have destroyed the
    market for parodies (since authors rarely parody their own
    works), so Rowling's campaign destroys the market for
    international follow-ons, since Rowling could never write a
    Potter book that could capture the Russian spirit the way
    Grotter does. Rowling is using the cudgel of international
    copyright not to destroy something she could have created,
    but to destroy something she could never create.

    In the end, few people are likely to mistake Tanya Grotter
    for Harry Potter; it is akin to mistaking Burger King for
    McDonald's. The international copyright system is justified
    in preventing the most basic forms of piracy. But it
    doesn't need to stop works like Tanya Grotter. The original
    Harry Potter is good enough to compete with its foreign
    cousins. So let a hundred Harrys bloom and let a hundred
    schools of magic contend.

  2. #2
    The Truth Is Out There ixcrisxi's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2003
    Moorhead, Minnesota
    Wow! Didn't know any of that was happening. Although, I did hear (a while back) that a man in Russia was portraying a girl instead of a guy as harry potter and usnig the same story lines and plots (pictures, too). Sold lots, I think.
    MULDER: It's still there, Scully. 200,000 years down in the ice.

    Leave it there.

  3. #3
    yeah, I heard about the chineese guy selling a new version of the harry potter book- or so we thought

  4. #4
    Jaded Otaku
    Meh, to me it's ok for people to make fan versions as long as they don't get profit from it, these guys are in the red obviously

  5. #5
    Sorry to bring back an old topic.
    But should these be considered like fanfic or something?

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