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Christian Mom Rewrites Harry Potter

Copyright Infringement

For all those people worried about their children becoming witches from reading the Harry Potter books, your worries are over. Last week, FanFiction.net received an upload from an Evangelical housewife; Grace-Ann Parsons (codenamed, “proudhousewife,”) entitled, Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles. Mrs. Parsons, a stay-at-home mom, has taken it upon herself to remove all the witchcraft from Harry Potter and replaced it with Christian-appropriate themes. In this reimagined world, Dumbledore is a married reverend, Harry and friends are Americans, and the evil Voldemort is part of the U.S. government trying to restrict Freedom of Religion.

Why did Mrs. Parsons think a rewrite was necessary? She says, “Do you want your little ones to read books; and they want to read the Harry Potter Books; but you do not want them to turn into witches? Well-this is the story for you! This story has all the adventure of JKR’s books, but will not lead your children astray. For concerned mommies everywhere! Blessings!”

One might think this is all a hoax. Perhaps it’s a joke from one of the late night TV shows or a promotion for some new show on Comedy Central. As of this writing, though, nobody has come forward to claim it as anything but real. The rewrite (more of a short story than a full rewrite) has only a few chapter so far, amounting to not more that 8 or 10 pages. However, chapter 8 was uploaded only yesterday so the writer, whoever he or she is, seems intent on continuing. The book begins with Hagrid recruiting Harry to Christianity, but you’ll have to wait until it is finished to see how it ends. Here is an excerpt from one of the later chapters.

Hermione moved to push open the imposing, large door, but she struggled with the knob. It was quite a heavy door! But Harry was a good, devout Christian now. He would not have a young, godly girl struggling to open a door which he was perfectly capable of opening himself!

With the simple faith so often seen in little ones, Harry got down on his knees; and lifted his hands skyward; and shouted prayerfully, “Dear Lord, please open these doors; and allow me to enter my new home!”

With a loud, thunderous boom that echoed throughout the expansive, beautiful campus, the doors crashed open. Harry stood up piously as Hermione’s jaw dropped. Now, she knew for certain that this was truly a man of the Lord!

Harry was about to step inside when Hermione grabbed his arm. He blushed once more.

“Wait, Harry!” Hermione uttered quickly. “There’s something you should know.”

“What is it?” Harry queried questioningly.

“My father says that dark times are coming,” Hermione spoke worriedly. “There is a man named Voldemort who wants to destroy all that we stand for. He is pushing an agenda in congress that will stop us from practicing our faith freely.”

“But that is what our founding fathers built this nation for!” Harry cried indignantly. “The freedom of religion!”

Is it legal to create a rewrite of Harry Potter?

Whether the work turns out to be a joke or a serious writing effort, it begs the question, is this work a copyright or trademark infringement? Let’s start with copyright infringement. Because the story uses the basic storyline, character types, names and themes from J.K Rowling’s books, the work would likely be considered a derivative work. Copyright holders have control over works that are derivatives of their originals. Unauthorized derivative works, therefore, are infringements unless a work was to fall into one of the exempted fair use categories. Examples of fair use include commentary, criticism, parody, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. Otherwise, courts use a balancing test, which looks at various criteria including the character and nature of the work and how transformative it is. A common misconception, especially among those who write fan fiction, is that if a derivative work doesn’t make money, then it is not a copyright infringement. In fact, money is only one of the factors and is not controlling. The misunderstanding likely comes from copyright holders not enforcing their rights against fan-fiction, but the lack of prosecution doesn’t mean that the works are not infringing.

by ichan-desu

For Mrs. Parson, whether she wrote the work with sincerity or as a joke will determine its infringement. As a serious work, it would have a hard time falling into one of the prescribed fair use categories, but might pass the balancing test due to how transformative it is. More likely, though, the work would fall under the parody exceptions. However, if the work is considered satire, and not parody, then it would be infringing because satire is not a fair use.

The difference between satire and parody can be confusing. Both parody and satire are humorous, but each has different goals. Satire tends to stand for a social or political change. It makes a serious point through humor. Parody mocks the thing itself (person, art, writing, song etc) and is more about making fun of the thing for fun’s sake; just pure entertainment and little else. So fair use will depend on whether this Harry Potter story is a serious endeavor, a satirical treatise on the Evangelicals in our society, or whether just pure entertainment. Ultimately though, that determination can only be made in the courts.

Finally, we have a potential trademark issue as well. Just last year, Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter films, had trademarked the titles of JK Rowling’s fictional Quidditch teams, experts and books. If Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles was found to be a fair use under Copyright law, the work might still be a trademark violation. However, trademarks do not carry minimum statutory penalties or legal fees unless the work is considered counterfeit. Counterfeits are only those articles passing themselves off as the real thing, like if someone sells a fake Rolex or Prada bag on the streets of New York City. A trademark violation in this case would only generate a percentage of profits from the story, for which there is none. So a trademark infringement lawsuit is not likely.

Ultimately, whether J.K Rowling and Warner Brothers decide to ignore the work, have the work removed or take a more aggressive legal action remains to be seen. J.K Rowling and Warner Bros has aggressively protected their intellectual property in the past. However, in the majority of those cases, the infringers were either profiting from the infringement or the action was initiated to silence leaks regarding plot lines in the new Harry Potter books before publication. So it is hard to tell whether anyone will try to stop Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles from continuing.

If you want to read Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles, just head over to fanfiction.net.

About the author

Steve Schlackman

As a photographer and Patent Attorney with a background in marketing, Steve has a unique perspective on art and law. Should you have any questions on Intellectual Property contact him at steve@orangenius.com. His photography can be seen online at Fotofilosophy.com or on display at the Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York City.

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