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J K Rowling defends plagiarism charge

22 February 2010

The estate of Adrian Jacobs, author of Willy the Wizard, has now widened its claim against Bloomsbury for plagiarism in the Harry Potter books to include J K Rowling herself, previously thought to be protected by a statute of limitations.

Max Markson, a PR executive representing Jacobs' estate, told the Guardian the addition of Rowling's name to the action opened up the possibility of multi-jurisdiction action:

'We believe that she [Rowling] personally plagiarised the Willy the Wizard book. All of Willy the Wizard is in The Goblet of Fire. We now have a case which is not just against Bloomsbury... I estimate it's a billion-dollar case. That'll be the decision of the courts, obviously.'

The suit claims Rowling's book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire copied substantial parts of Jacobs' 1987 book. His estate also claims many other ideas from Willy the Wizard were copied into the Harry Potter books. Jacobs died in London in 1997.

Bloomsbury dismissed the allegations when they were made in June, indicating that a similar claim on behalf of the Jacobs' estate was made in 2004, but never progressed. Bloomsbury stated that J K Rowling had never heard of Adrian Jacobs nor seen, read or heard of his book Willy the Wizard until this claim was first made in 2004. Bloomsbury added that Willy the Wizard was a 'very insubstantial booklet running to 36 pages which had very limited distribution' and was of a 'very poor quality'.

It's easy to feel that J K Rowling has had it all easy, with her millions of fans and the vast fortune she's made from her books. She was clearly upset the last time she went to court to protect her copyright against Vander Ark, the fan who had compiled an anthology without her permission and it must be heart-breaking for her that this is happening again. She said:

'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.'

If plagiarism could be proved in court, the Jacobs estate does indeed stand to make millions or even billions. The trustee of The estate of Adrian Jacobs, Paul Allen, said in a statement: 'The estate - which acts independently of Adrian Jacobs family - has been in correspondence with lawyers for Rowling and her publishers for several years but have been repeatedly rebuffed. We have taken expert legal advice and we believe we have very strong case.' Allen said it had 'asked for this breach of copyright to be stopped', and was taking legal advice as to whether the Harry Potter films breached copyright and 'likewise the proposed Harry Potter theme park'.

Of course the vast revenue earned by the books is augmented by the income from the films and now the theme park. Also, the Harry Potter books have sold in enormous quantities across the world, so many international publishers will be watching this case closely.