Magic fuels the fame game

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by Cathy Macleod, week ending 8 April 2011.
MAGIC fascinates the real world, even in this Age of scientific wonders. I saw the proof of its power when newspaper editors pounced on a recent legal trial between two authors. It was a miracle of publicity, free worldwide exposure that could well recompense the loser who challenged schoolboy wizard Harry Potter.
A High Court judge, with one flick of her wand (disguised as a gavel), made Willy the Wizard disappear in a puff of smoke. I hope so, anyway, but when hocus-pocus emanates, one never knows what might happen next.
The court contest in Britain between Harry Potter and Willy the Wizard will not be decided until Willy forks out £1.5 million. The judge ruled this would cover defence costs in a plagiarism claim concerning Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. Willy could recoup the kitty if he wins, which is unlikely (as the judge pointed out). The same judge last October ruled there was a case to answer.
Not so in the United States. There, the claim that bits of the Harry Potter fantasy were cribbed was rejected well over a year ago. ďAny serious comparison of the two strains credulity," ruled the American judge. But British judges seem to be closer to the spirit of Fantasyland and famously avoided, or at least delayed, a decision by means of that onerous £1.5 million condition.

When it comes to free publicity, there is no denying that Willy the Wizard, an obscure and flimsy series by the late Adrian Jacobs, has not done so badly out of the plagiarism claim. Everybody loves an amusing legal tangle, and the newspapers eagerly provided. Many parents swallowed the bait after learning that Willy exists, and discovered his adventures online by means of a simple google.
My personal verdict on the plagiarism claim? You cannot copyright an idea. However, specific texts, either in form or content, can be actionable if the similarity is excessive. Letís see how these two adversaries compare . . .
In both books, thereís a magic contest and humans are held hostage by weird creatures in a bathroom. Unlike child wizard Harry Potter, Willy is an adult with a long nose, gown and pointy hat. Oh yes, and like Harry he travels on a train.
By their very nature, and in some way or other, all wizard stories loosely resemble each other. I am surprised the British judge did not make Willy disappear when first presented with the claim. She has not been required to explain this lapse, and I can only guess she was reluctant to spoil the fun.

Incidentally, my Booktaste website has its own wizard tale. Thereís a wand and an evil spell and a magic contest and a small character riding a sort of train thatís really a grumpy rhinoceros. It was written long before the birth of Harry Potter or, indeed, author JK Rowling, yet Booktaste will not sue for plagiarism. We give folk a free read of The Wizard of Woe as an introduction to our Mousedeer series. Happy reading from Cathy Macleod, week ending 8 April 2011.

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