This was published in the Evening Standard on Thursday, slightly edited:
The Harry Potter series is one of the most derivative works of fiction ever devised, from its boarding school setting (The Four Marys, Billy Bunter), magical theme (too many to mention) and even its plot (drawing from the same well as Star Wars and even The Matrix). He isn’t even the first fictional English boy wizard with spectacles and a pet owl, as fans of Neil Gaiman’s Books of Magic will testify.
None of this is to deride J.K. Rowling’s genius for taking hoary clichÃ© and making something new out of it, but perhaps one would have thought it would have given her a more enlightened view regarding intellectual property law. The Harry Potter Lexicon is clearly a blatant cash in but one which will only promote her original books. If she wants to produce her own, more authoritative encyclopedia, no one is stopping her.
In any case, existing copyright laws mean that while the strikingly original and iconic Alice in Wonderland books became public property 50 years after Lewis Carroll’s death aged 65, Harry Potter will be owned by Rowling’s estate for 70 years after her death. The state of modern medicine and her millions mean that she is likely to survive well into her 90s. I don’t begrudge her money, but I do have an issue with her great grandchildren continuing to rake it in during the 2120s.