Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Parry Hotter or Harry Potter?

Dear Rich: Can a publisher publish a crossword puzzle book "Parry Hotter and the Chamber of Crossword Puzzles Book," using situations and characters from the famous series as clues, if those character names are slightly altered so as not to infringe on copyright? You may be operating under the misconception that slight alterations to character names can avoid charges of copyright and trademark infringement. For trademark purposes, consumers are likely to be confused into believing that the term Parry Hotter has some association with the Harry Potter series (which, of course, is the idea). For copyright purposes, the plot situations and characters are still substantially similar despite the dyslexic character spellings. 
Three-letter word for "litigate." There have been three recent unsuccessful attempts at dissecting elements of successful series and repackaging them:

  • Twin Peaks. In this case, a company published a book entitled Welcome to Twin Peaks: A Complete Guide to Who’s Who and What’s What, containing direct quotations and paraphrases from the television show Twin Peaks
  • Seinfeld. In this case, a company published a book of trivia questions about the events and characters of the Seinfeld television series. The book included questions based upon events and characters in 84 Seinfeld episodes and used actual dialogue from the show in 41 of the book’s questions. 
  • Harry Potter. And of course, there was the more recent attempt to create the Parry Hotter ... er, Harry Potter encyclopedia. In that case, a court rejected a fair use defense.
Even if we're wrong and you could manage to prevail under a fair use argument, it's unlikely that you could afford the court battle to prove that defense. Bottom Line Dept. We admire anyone who can create a good crossword puzzle but we don't believe a Parry Hotter crossword puzzle book is a wise investment.

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