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J.K. Rowling plagiarism suit – is it serious?

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Scott Heppell

(Read caption) A lawsuit contends that "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling stole concepts like wizard contests, wizard prisons, wizard hospitals, and wizard colleges from another novelist's work.

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The suit against J.K. Rowling has already gotten further than many thought it would. But does it really stand a chance?

In a surprise decision, Justice David Kitchin has refused to dismiss a plagiarism lawsuit charging that "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling stole concepts – wizard contests, wizard prisons, wizard hospitals, and wizard colleges – for "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" from late fantasy novelist Adrian Jacobs' 1987 book "'The Adventures of Willy the Wizard."

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Rowling has called the claims against her "unfounded" and "absurd" and lawyers acting on behalf of her British publisher Bloomsbury had asked the judge to dismiss the case outright. However, the judge ruled that he did "not feel able at this stage to say that Mr. Allen's case is so bad that I can properly describe it as fanciful."

However, Kitchin did call the case "improbable." But because it has what he calls "a chance of success" he has ruled that he will allow a one-day hearing to be scheduled to consider the case – at the expense of the plaintiff. That hearing has yet to be scheduled.

The Jacobs case is not the first time that Rowling has had to face plagiarism charges – and probably not the last. As Library Journal writer Lauren Barack pointed out last year, "Given the success of Rowling’s Potter series it seems unlikely that she’ll stop being a lightning rod for suits of this nature."

Many Rowling fans are quick to defend their hero ("Harry Potter is one of a kind and this guy [has] got nothing on J.K.," writes one in a typical comment), but most are perhaps more focused on the upcoming release (Nov. 19 in the US) of the seventh "Harry Potter" film, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I."

It's hard to imagine that this plagiarism suit – whatever direction it takes – will do anything to dampen that enthusiasm.

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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