In the news today:
J. K. Rowling dismisses plagiarism claim“Absurd” and “unfounded” looks right to me.
‘Harry Potter’ author J.K. Rowling, who has been dragged into a 500 million pound legal battle over claims of plagiarism, has dismissed the allegations calling them “absurd” and “unfounded”.
The multi-millionaire author has been named in the lawsuit originally filed last year against publisher Bloomsbury for alleged copyright infringement, Daily Mail online reported.This is going to be another case like Nancy Stouffer’s ignominiously unsuccessful attempt to sue on account of some purely nominal similarities between the Harry Potter series and an obscure children’s book Rowling never saw.
What these lawsuits teach us:
1. The plaintiffs haven’t paid much attention to other works in the genre.
2. Non-writers think it’s the ideas, rather than the execution, that make a book. They’ve got that backward.
3. People who aren’t accustomed to having a lot of ideas of their own have a very poor grasp of the odds that others might independently come up with the same ideas.
The estate of writer Adrian Jacobs maintains Rowling stole ideas from one of his books The Adventures of Willy the Wizard for her work, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But Rowling has issued a statement dismissing the claim as “absurd,” and is applying to have the case thrown out.Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the fourth book in a consistent and tightly sequential series of seven books. It would be bizarre to assume that J. K. Rowling committed plagiarism in the fourth book but not in the three books before or the three after it.
What’s really happening here is that Adrian Jacobs’ book imagines that a society that’s full of wizards would still have railroads, newspapers, schools, students, hospitals, government bureaus, candy, contests, sporting events, prisons, maps, and beer, only they’d all be the wizardly versions of those things.
Surprise, surprise: J. K. Rowling’s books do that too—as do thousands of other works of genre fiction. It’s basic worldbuilding. (This is the part where the plaintiffs not paying enough attention to other books comes in.) The reason the plaintiffs are suing over Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is that it’s built around a magical competition, so its insignificant resemblance to Willy the Wizard is infinitesimally greater than that of the other books in the series.
“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,” Rowling said.I’m inclined to believe her. One of the many reasons for this is that it looks to me like Willy the Wizard may have been self-published. The following account of the book’s history is from the website Adrian Jacobs’ heirs have put up, on the page titled Background to Publication in 1987 of The Adventures of Willy the Wizard by Adrian Jacobs with illustrations by Nick Tidnam ©1987:
No. While the publishers may have found kind things to say about it, they rejected it.Adrian Jacobs’ work “The Adventures of Willy The Wizard” was well received when it was sent around in manuscript form by his literary agent to potential publishers in 1987.
Why did the publishers comment on his ideas? Most likely because it spared them having to say anything about Adrian Jacobs’ prose, storytelling, pacing, and ear for language.Publishers were enthusiastic about his ideas, including …
(List of ideas, carefully selected and phrased to maximize the resemblance to Rowling’s work.)
Sorry. It’s far from being the worst book I’ve ever seen, but it’s not up to snuff.
True, as far as it goes, though it’s awfully generic advice. I’d like to know who this agent was who thought the manuscript needed serious work, but sent it round to publishers anyway. Maybe they were a real agent. If not, Adrian Jacobs will have been paying them. Note: placing Jacobs’ book with a vanity press (if it was a vanity press) is not the sort of thing real agents do.However his literary agent advised him that the work needed some re-writing and was densely packed with themes and ideas that needed expansion and development.
And since we’re comparing Adrian Jacobs and J. K. Rowling: when Rowling first submitted her work to agents and publishers, she got turned down too. The difference is that instead of self-publishing it, she buckled down and worked on her writing. A few years later, her first book sold to Bloomsbury.
That’s not as in Bachman Turner Overdrive. Cecil Turner and his wife Marta Bachman ran Bachman & Turner in the 1970s and 1980s. Neither of them appear to have had any background in publishing before starting the company. If you read between the lines of this perhaps over-laudatory obituary of Cecil Turner (it’s written by one of the authors he published), it looks like Turner wasn’t wealthy before marrying Marta Bachman and starting a publishing company, but adopted a patrician lifestyle thereafter. That would be unusual for a couple running a legitimate small press, especially given the not overwhelmingly commercial books Bachman & Turner published. I don’t know. Maybe Marta Bachman had money.Adrian Jacobs was impatient to publish and not wishing to re-write, Adrian commissioned an illustrator- Nick Tidnam RBA and retained him to illustrate the manuscript. Cecil Turner of Bachman Turner published the book in October 1987.
I’m not seeing any mention of book sales or bookstore distribution.Some 5000 copies were printed. Adrian sent a large number of copies of the highly colourful finished book to his literary agent. Adrian Jacobs visited several schools and read extracts from AWTW. The book was reviewed in papers including the Daily Express.
The only publishing detail the relatives seem to know is exactly how many copies were printed. Most or all of the copies wound up in the hands of the author. He sent many of them to his agent, which is an odd thing to do if you already have a legitimate publisher. Maybe I’m wrong, but to me this sounds like vanity publishing.
I can tell you one thing that definitely didn’t happen: the book didn’t get edited, copy edited, or proofread, which is sad considering that it’s only 36 pages long. Check out the prose. (If you’re feeling brave, here’s the complete list of excerpts.) The punctuation is full of errors, and never rises above “haphazard.” Obvious words are left out, and essential connections and descriptions are missing. Some passages make no sense at all. The text contains errors no editor would let stand, like “bathroom-come-study,” “carpenterised” for “remodeled” or “subdivided,” and “fawcett” for “faucet.” Some interesting passages:
In my personal opinion, not intending any untoward imputations about anyone involved, that’s not the kind of text you tend to see when the publisher is footing the bills.Willy sat in Ali Baba’s chair and was frequenctized into vision acute, now receiving clarity waves from the Ruby Tower.
Kentucky set the scene for the polo feast. A green green carpet appeared like a field in the sky, and the audience was enthralled as the mini polo ponies careered back and forth with their Jockies at breakneck velocity around the entire carpet lawn. … Duke plied them with the local coconut juice which spiced and blended with Bay pineapple juice, caressed their lovely day.
In Willy’s laboratory, Wizard Cricket demonstrated how a mixture’ of grounded nicket paste and paleberry juice applied gently on the eyebrows of an Aussie guinea pig would bring a marked change of appearance. Willy suffered the mixture and clumsily knocked the contents of the texture into the berry juice paste and ! The guinea pig became a winking wongo - a wonderful little chap, a cousin to the Dutch Tree Squirrels.
It was specially intimate between them and had provoked some envy as its sweet success for silent discourse. Sitting in the cove, Willy sniffed deeply and drew into his mind Breathair Oxy-Zone. He had been taught the trick by Master Wizard Onlywheness who had been blessed by Guardian Saint Lovely Lucinda. Onlywheness had shown Willy how to breathe and on outward breath to sound silent messages. It was a question of nose muscle control and delicate lacquering of the air with thought pellets. Willy concentrated hard. He was rusty for he hadn’t drawn on this secret power for decades but his patience was prized…
Back to the website:
According to the Daily Mail, Adrian Jacobs lost all his money in a stock market crash in 1991.Adrian wrote a sequel- Holiday Antics, which was passed as a manuscript to his literary agent but never published.
Back to the news story:
Jacobs’s 36-page book, also about a child discovering he has magical powers, —If you threw us into prison and only fed us on days when we could supply the title of a published work that fits that description, we could stay alive for a very long time. Many of the works we’d name antedate Willy the Wizard. Perhaps their authors should sue the Adrian Jacobs estate.
— was published in 1987, ten years before the first Harry Potter book and three years before Rowling said she came up with her idea. Jacob’s estate said many ‘concepts and themes’ were copied from ‘Willy The Wizard’ in Rowling’s ‘The Goblet of Fire’, the fourth book in the series, published in 2000.Printing isn’t publishing. The existence somewhere of copies of a book doesn’t mean a given person saw or read one of them. Being exposed to a text, if such a thing could be shown to have happened, isn’t proof that a writer made improper use of it. I mean, these guys are citing the use of flight and transfiguration as evidence of plagiarism, as though those motifs haven’t been turning up in folk tales and fairy tales since time immemorial.
In both books, the main character competes in a magic contest and each features wizard trains and prisons.No kidding? What a coincidence! The society I live in also has contests, mass transit, and law enforcement. Where do you suppose we got those concepts?
Jacobs died penniless in a London hospice in 1997, before the Harry Potter phenomenon took the world by storm.Max Markson isn’t an agent, and this case is outside his area of professional competence. He’s a publicist. He runs a publicity, celebrity management, and events organization firm, Markson Sparks. He calls himself Mr. Fame, and says on his website that “Max Markson can give anyone fame … and fortune.” I don’t think that’s true. I also don’t think it’s a claim a legit publicist ought to be making.
Australian-based agent Max Markson, who represents Paul Allen, the trustee of Jacobs’s estate, said, “I estimate it’s a billion-dollar case.”
The estate also claims that Jacobs had sent the book to literary agent Christopher Little, attributed as the man who years later discovered Rowling.The estate’s been pushing this supposed connection, saying that Jacobs “sought the services” of the agent who later took on J. K. Rowling as a client, but Victoria Strauss says she’s found no evidence that Christopher Little ever agreed to represent Jacobs. Lots of writers apply to agents and get turned down. In many cases, the agent rejects them without ever laying eyes on their book.
“Adrian Jacobs did not live long enough to see the massive success of the Harry Potter books and films. If he had, he would have sought the proper recognition of his contribution to this success story,” Allen said.Right. It’s all about recognition. The money has nothing to do with it. I await the news that the Jacobs estate has filed suit for copyright infringement against all the other books and stories published after 1987 that contain the same motifs.
Addendum: A pertinent quote from Max Markson:
People have ideas all the time. I’ve had millions of them. The hard part isn’t having the idea, it’s making it work.It’s nice to have the Adrian Jacobs estate’s own mouthpiece confirm that.