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Q: Using Harry Potter Terminology ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   9 Comments )
Subject: Using Harry Potter Terminology
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Books and Literature
Asked by: jedmrn-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 26 Jan 2006 22:38 PST
Expires: 25 Feb 2006 22:38 PST
Question ID: 438215
In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, she describes other wizarding
places (Bulgaria, Salem).  Could another author write about one of
these other places using some of her terminology (Muggle, Dementor,
Ministry of Magic)to maintain consistency throughout the wizarding
world?  Would this be copy write infringement?

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 27 Jan 2006 04:54 PST
There's only one sure way to answer the question you posed -- "Would
this be copyright infringement? -- and that would be to get sued, and
have the matter decided by a court.

J.K Rowling can sue anyone she feels like.  She can sue techtor-ga for
the use of Harry Potter terms in the comment, below.  She can sue you
for the same reason.  She can sue me because I look a bit like Harry

Would she win any of these suits?  Probably not, but that wouldn't
make the process very much less painful.

People use 'exclusive' terms all the time, like Superman, kryptonite,
Lois Lane.  I can write these without fear of being sued, because the
use is trivial, and why would anyone bother?

Eventually, though, usage can rise to a non-trivial level, and what's
more, can be in a context that is likely to come to the author's
attention.  JK Rowling is not likely to ever see this particular
thread...she is likely to learn about your book, though, should it
ever get published.

Bottom line...there's no clearcut distinction between usage that is
OK, and usage that becomes infringement.  But if you step on the toes
of a giant, you're likely to get stomped.

In other words, using the Harry Potter terminology in your own book
seems like a bad idea, even if, ultimately, the law were decide in
your favor on this issue (which is a big 'if').

Does that help get you towards an answer to your question?


Clarification of Question by jedmrn-ga on 27 Jan 2006 06:05 PST
Thank you for responding to the questions.  I definitely agree on
creating original works, but the wizard world that J.K. created in all
of its detail is the standard now.  How could anyone ever write about
the Spanish or Asian wizarding world and yet totally avoid using words
and terms that are in the Harry Potter books?  I read an interview
with J.K. and the question was asked if she would ever include an
American wizard in her stories.  She stated that she only writes about
English wizards but if someone else wanted to write about American
wizards they should.  So in summary, there are other wizard worlds to
explore and write about and it would be totally impossible to avoid
any similarities to the Harry Potter series.

Request for Question Clarification by pafalafa-ga on 27 Jan 2006 10:03 PST

In the comment by atk-ga (below), there is some pretty good advice
about how to write a story about a wizarding world without impinging
on the Harry Potter copyright.

In fact, there are oodles of stories that have to do with magic,
wizards, witches, spells, evil, potions...and even a fair number
dealing specifically with training and wizard schools.  No one has a
franchise on this particular type of fiction, and you should feel free
to write whatever style of work you want to.

HOWEVER, your best course of action is to invent your own world, and
your own terms for things like non-magical humans, or spells to light
up your magic wand.  If you use the terms from Harry Potter, you do so
at some risk to yourself, in terms of inviting a cease and desist

There's a good discussion of copyright law as it pertains to copying
bits and pieces of larger works, that you can read here if interested:
I May Not Be Totally Perfect But Parts of Me Are Excellent: 
Copyright Protection for Short Phrases 

Please let us know what sort of additional information you need at
this point to make for a complete answer to your question.



Clarification of Question by jedmrn-ga on 27 Jan 2006 17:19 PST
My questions have been answered at this point.  Thank you to everyone who responded.
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
Answered By: pafalafa-ga on 27 Jan 2006 17:57 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars

Thanks for letting us know that you got what you needed, and best of
luck with your writing.

jedmrn-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $2.00
Great advice and direction.

Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: techtor-ga on 27 Jan 2006 01:07 PST
I believe that if you use words, concepts or elements that are unique
to Harry Potter's world and storyline (Hogwarts, Order of the Phoenix,
Chamber of Secrets), you would most probably be infringing a
copyright. Only the common words and concepts (witch, sorcerer,
chimera, giant serpent, sorcerer school) can be easily used in other
stories. If you are making a story that is meant to be part of the
Harry Potter, I guess this is OK as fan fiction. But if you are making
money out of it, selling stories, then there would be problems.
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: antontodorov-ga on 27 Jan 2006 02:58 PST
Suggestion : You can look up each word you want to use on the net.
For example "Bulgaria" and "Salem" are actual geographical places so
you can freely use it as you like.

No copyright infringement issues can arise, because names of
geographical places are not subject to copyrights, patents, trademarks
or so forth or  :)

Ministry of Magic also seems to be OK, I am pretty sure about it. Can
you even imagine that the author coined them out herself ? No of
course, not.

There are words / characters however, which you may not use directly. 
For example - Muggle (a term from the fictional Harry Potter series of
books which refers to a human with no magical abilities who doesn't
belong to a wizarding family). The reason why is that this is a word,
which the author coined herself and in my personal opinion, this could
be considered an infrigement.
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: nkamom-ga on 27 Jan 2006 04:34 PST
Actually, Ms. Rowling herself was sued for plagerism by an author of
books about a wizard named Larry Potter.  Larry's mom was named Lily
and non-magical people were known as muggles.  I think the author's
name was Nancy Stouffer and if I recall correctly, Rowling settled the
lawsuit for an undisclosed sum of money.

I would tread lightly here - you surely don't want to be in a legal
battle with the wealthiest person in England!
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: techtor-ga on 27 Jan 2006 04:49 PST
Goes to show you... best write something original.
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: rogerwilco-ga on 27 Jan 2006 06:49 PST
Techtor, just FYI -- JK Rowling is Scottish, not English. It can be a
sore point, north of the border... :)

Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: atk-ga on 27 Jan 2006 06:52 PST
To this part of the question: "How could anyone ever write about
the Spanish or Asian wizarding world and yet totally avoid using words
and terms that are in the Harry Potter books?"

If by "words and terms that are in the Harry Potter books" you mean
the terms that Rowling specifically coined for her books, then the
answer is obvious: you actually create different words and terms. You
want to refer to somone with out magic powers? Don't call 'em a
"Muggle", call 'em something else! You want to name an illumination
spell? Don't have 'em say, "Lumos!"; have 'em say "Fiat lux!" Or
whatever else.  How do you do it? You be creative and create your own
world, rather than play in someone else's.

Speaking in generalities one (but only one, mind you) test of the
appropriateness of an appropriation of copyrighted and trademarked
material is the degree to which the new usage would cause confusion
with the original, or dilute the influence of the original. If you
were to publish a new story taking place in the "Harry Potter
Universe"--or that typical readers would reasonably be assumed to be
taking place there--you're probably going to run afoul of that test.
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: griffinsbridge-ga on 14 Feb 2006 07:31 PST
Being one of the admins of a Harry Potter fansite: the whomping Willow
at I have some experience of using Jo's
terminology from the harry Potter books. We have thoroughly researched
all terms used.

Most of the terms used for, spells, charms, hexes and curses are taken
from other language versions of the effects of them. For instance
"Avada Kadavra", I quote JK Rowling: "(Avada Kadavra) is an ancient
spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means
'let the thing be destroyed.' Originally, it was used to cure illness
and the 'thing' was the illness, but I decided to make it the 'thing'
as in the person standing in front of me."

In essence, just because Jo decide to make it "the thing infront of
me" doesnt mean no-body else can give it the same meaning. It would be
like patenting the use of a butter knife as a screwdriver!

Nearly every spell has an ancient or other language meaning
(especially Latin). You can see our research on the spells here

Many Potions however, have been given names devised entirely by Jk.
Amortentia is a love potion. taken from the french Amour, however,
tentia was added to make it sound more 'mysterious'. similarly, the
ingredients should be considered JK Rowlings Copyright.

Names and places refered to in the books should similarly be avoided.
All fictional names belong to JK and/or Bloomsbury/warner Bros.
Although, research has shown that there are upto 50 Harry Potters
living in England who Im sure have more ownership of the name than
JK,WB and bloomsbury put together.

As for the magical creatures, nearly every one of the 75 fantastic
beasts mentioned in the Harry Potter series (see Fantastical beasts
and where to find them, JK Rowling) have  been taken from various
legends around the world. Some beasts have had characteristics
developed by JK, but they are nearly all essentially Legends.

Personally, I would write the book and send a copy to Bloomsbury to be
considered for publishing. If it was good enogh, they would publish it
and allow any infringements of copyright (as they own 1/3 of it), they
would probably pass it on to Jo for her sayso.
If they got to see the manuscript lst, at least youd know exactly
where the copyright infringements were and how to get round them.
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: techtor-ga on 14 Feb 2006 19:08 PST
Really, there is that distinction between British and Scottish?
Blimey, I say, your national loyalties do show themselves, old chap!
Subject: Re: Using Harry Potter Terminology
From: griffinsbridge-ga on 17 Feb 2006 08:44 PST
Lol at techtor
Going off topic......
Theres a huge distinction. the british are either English, Scottish,
Welsh or Irish (from Northern Ireland). We stand together against the
world as Britons from Great Britain, yet at home and on the Football
pitch, we are seperated!.

England for the World Cup!!!

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