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Publisher Sues NY Newspaper Over Leaked <i>Harry Potter</i> Pages - 2003-06-20

Just days before the release of the latest Harry Potter book, a New York newspaper leaked a summary, enraging author J.K. Rowling and her publisher, and provoking a lawsuit. Scholastic Incorporated, publisher of the now famous Harry Potter series, is suing the New York Daily News newspaper for $100 million.

On Wednesday, the newspaper previewed Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and printed two pages of the book in a miniature graphic after one of its reporters bought the book from a local health food store.

The book, which has been kept under tight security, will not be officially released in the United States until after midnight on Friday. The owner of the health food store says he didn't know he could not sell the book before that time.

"We began selling the book on Monday," he said. "As an innocent mistake, I mean, we had no idea there was going to be a release date on the 21st and obviously if we had known we would have honored that, but we're not in the book-selling business here really, we sell health foods."

The suit alleges that the newspaper infringed author J.K. Rowling's copyright and that it harmed the publisher's $3 million marketing campaign. Much of the interest generated for Harry Potter books centers on the mystery of the plot, which Scholastic hoped to keep secret until the official release. The Daily News did not give away the ending.

According to Mark Patterson, a law professor at Fordham University, copyright law protects authors' works, but leaves room for some use of the product.

"You are allowed to publish some small amount of excerpts," he said. "There's a doctrine in copyright law called fair use, which means you can publish certain small pieces of works under certain circumstances, now one of the things that cuts against being authorized to have fair use is that if you interfere with the actual market for the book and this might or might not have done that."

Scholastic would not comment on the lawsuit. In a written statement, the publisher affirmed the company's committment to enforce its agreements with retailers, and said, "We sincerely hope that this unfortunate situation will not spoil the surprise for millions of children around the country who have been eagerly awaiting the book."

Professor Patterson says it is difficult to understand how Scholastic arrived as high a figure as $100 million in damages. He thinks it might be part of the marketing campaign. "It's possible that Scholastic actually has a claim for damages, I can't however imagine how they think they could establish anything like the damages they claim, which does suggest that there may be another motive behind their action," he said.

The Daily News article does not appear to have made a dent in the demand for the fifth book of the wildly popular boy wizard series. A whopping 8.5 million copies of the book are being printed worldwide.

Major internet retailers have placed huge advance orders. In New York, a Harry Potter countdown party is being planned in Times Square for Friday night. Many New York City bookstores will stay open late in anticipation of a buying frenzy after the clock strikes midnight. The merit of the lawsuit may be debatable, but it has certainly kept Harry Potter in the headlines another day.