What’s more humiliating than being a 50 year old Harry Potter superfan getting sued by JK Rowling for copyright infringement? Breaking down and weeping on the witness stand.

In a moment that compellingly argues for cameras in all court rooms, Steven Vander Ark, the man behind the Harry Potter Lexicon website, went all blubbery like a big diaper-shitting baby while defending his plans to publish a book version of that Lexicon. See, Rowling was chill with the web site version, but took offense when Vander Ark hooked up with a publisher to sell copies of a book compiling the entries and defintions, which she claims includes unauthorized swipes of large passages from her books.

Here’s how the Associated Press describe the moment when the fanboy broke:

Vander Ark wept openly when he was asked to reflect on what the case
has done to his relationship with the community of Harry Potter fans.
The former middle school librarian,
who fell in love with the books in 1998 and has devoted years to
studying them and indexing their content online, could barely speak.

“It’s been … it’s been,” he stammered, choking on his words. “It’s
been difficult because there has been a lot of criticism, obviously,
and that was never the intention. … This has been an important part
of my life for the last nine years or so.”

Besides offering the thrill of schadenfreude when a grotesque dweeb gets splattered in the national spotlight, this case is also one that I think is incredibly important in a world where copyright is becoming more and more amorphous. Fanfic – all of it* terrible and made for and by prime candidates for sterilization – is choking the internet as people who love properties and characters lose all perspective and start believing they own them. Then there are the fan sites that want to honor or celebrate a property or character but that cross the line into infringement on a regular basis.

Rowling says that she wants to do her own Harry Potter encyclopedia, making a text Lexicon clear cut infringement. The publisher is arguing that the Lexicon is an interpretive and analytical book, making it completely legal. It seems to me that this is an important distinction – for example, how much of the source can you use when writing about the source, and not just using the characters and concepts in your own fanfic? This trial, which will last about a week and does not include a jury, could very well set guidelines for that.

By the way, being on the stand has been a real rollercoaster experience for Vander Ark. Check this out:

His face lit up when an attorney for RDR books informed him that
Rowling had complained that the Lexicon had given the wrong etymology
for the door-opening charm “Alohomora.”

Vander Ark had speculated that the word was a combination of
the Hawaiian word “aloha” and the Latin word “mora.” Rowling explained
that the word actually came from a West African dialect.


“Really!” Vander Ark said, his eyes alight. “Sorry. That’s very exciting stuff for someone like me.”


* Especially the furry fanfic