Rare Book Monthly

Articles - July - 2009 Issue

<i>In The News:</i> Crime and Lawsuits

Willywizard

Willy the Wizard book photo, provided as part of PR release.


As one lawsuit ends, another begins. The estate of writer Adrian Jacobs has sued the publisher of the Harry Potter books for copyright infringement. They claim that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was based on Jacobs' The Adventures of Willy the Wizard, published in 1987. Jacobs himself never made such a claim, but that is easily explained by the fact that he died, "penniless" according to the estate, in 1997, before the Potter book was published. I have no idea whether there is any validity to this claim. I am one of the few people who has not read a Harry Potter book, and one of the very many who has not read a Willy the Wizard book. However, the publicity campaign on behalf of Willy over what should be a matter decided in court makes me suspicious. The final paragraph of a news release sent out by the estate begins, "Mr. Paul Allen, the trustee of the estate, said ... 'Because it is not right for the Estate to comment upon matters proceeding before the Court...'" Huh? If it's not right to comment, why are you doing so? A contact given in the press release provides the name of Max Markson, whom the Daily Telegraph describes as a "celebrity publicist." It makes one wonder if this is an attempt to sell copies of a forgotten book, or garner some sort of a nuisance settlement. Why else go to such efforts to publicize a private legal matter?

Theft of the most evil kind, the defacing of old books, has reached the heartland, the University of Kansas to be exact. Six books, valued at $5,000, were found to have had plates removed. These are not the library's most valuable possessions, and the lack of subject connection between the plates indicates the thief may be a small time operator looking to sell them on a venue such as eBay. Unfortunately, this theft ups the ante for libraries trying to balance security with access. The Kansas Library possesses over 4 million volumes. Of these, 400,000 are kept in their research library and 800,000 in the library annex. These are sites with restricted access. However, the library noted, "We do keep some relatively valuable books in open stacks; this is a common practice among many academic research libraries, because we must balance protecting the materials in our collections with fulfilling our mission of making them accessible to students, faculty, and other researchers and scholars." If not even 1.2 million books in restricted access is enough, will libraries, already competing with the ease and speed of online resources, have to become even more user unfriendly? These are difficult times for libraries.

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