Harry Potter v. Willy the Wizard: Who Came First?

Ever since the first Harry Potter novel was released in 1997, readers all over the world have delighted in the fantastic adventures of Harry and his classmates at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry.  But when J.K. Rowling wrote the fourth book in the series,
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, was she drawing from her own imagination or from a novel written years before Harry Potter was even conceived?  According to the family of Adrian Jacobs, author of the 1987 novel entitled, The Adventures of Willy Wizard No 2: Livid Land, Ms Rowling plagiarized the late Mr. Jacobs.

The estate of Adrian Jacobs (who died in 1997) first sued Rowling’s publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, in June of 2009, before joining Ms. Rowling as a defendant in February of 2010.  The lawsuit, filed in High Court in England, alleges that both novels involve human hostages being held in a bathroom by half-human creatures, as well as boys who are trying to rescue the hostages. Other alleged similarities between the two books include a wizard train and a wizard prison.

Regardless of how similar two literary works may be, an author is not generally considered to be liable for plagiarism if that author’s work was arrived at independently.  J.K. Rowling has claimed that she had never even heard of Adrian Jacobs or his novel until the first accusation of plagiarism was made in 2004, some four years after the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

This is not the first plagiarism lawsuit filed against Rowling.  In 1999, American author Nancy Stouffer claimed that her two 1984 works, The Legend of Rah and the Muggles and Larry Potter and His Best Friend Lilly were the basis for the Harry Potter character.  Rowling claimed that since only portions of Rah were printed in booklet form in 1986 and were never sold, either in the United States or elsewhere, there is no way that she could have plagiarized Stouffer’s works, especially since she never even visited the United States until 1998, a year after the publication of the first Harry Potter novel.  In 2002, Rowling, her publisher, and Warner Brothers (owner of the movie rights to the Harry Potter books) sought and received adeclaratory judgment that they had not infringed on Stouffer’s works. It was further ruled that Stouffer had in fact defrauded the Court.

Stories of wizards & witchcraft date back at least as far as the legends of Merlin the Magician, and there are common threads that run through many such stories.  Not even a magic spell will help the estate of Adrian Jacobs unless the estate can prove direct copying.

Leave a Reply