'Harry Potter' takes on Grotter

Lawyers for author, publisher threaten to sue over Russian look-alike

— From the jagged, jumbled lettering of the title to the picture of a youngster flying through the air framed by pillars, the book looks fantastically familiar. But the figure on the front isn't Harry Potter - it's Tanya Grotter, heroine of a Russian series that has the boy wizard's backers crying plagiarism.

While Tanya Grotter is an 11-year-old girl and rides a magical double bass instead of a broomstick, she shares several attributes with her near-namesake: Like Potter, she is an orphan, wears glasses and has an unusual mark on her face - a mole on her nose. And like the Potter books, the Grotter series is full of fanciful magic words that set spells in motion.

The author of both Grotter books, Dmitry Yemets, said his work was "entirely independent." However, he also said it was meant in part as a parody of the Harry Potter series, but with roots in Russian culture and folklore.

"It's a sort of Russian answer to Harry Potter," said Yemets, a philologist by training and a specialist in Russian folklore. He said he sees his books as being in a "cultural competition" with the Harry Potter series, which has sold about 1.2 million copies in Russia.

Saying the resemblance goes far deeper than the cover, lawyers for Potter author J.K. Rowling, her Russian publisher and Warner Brothers have threatened to sue Eksmo, the publisher of "Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass," unless it withdraws the book and promises not to print any more.

Eksmo's reaction: Go fly a Nimbus-2000.

"This baseless accusation of plagiarism is no reason for us to carry out their wishes," Eksmo spokesman Alexei Shekhov said. He said a letter from the Moscow office of the law firm LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green and MacRae demanding the withdrawal of the books was "stupid and impudent" and derided the threat as a result of "fear and panic."

"It's fear of competition," said Shekhov, who said the first Grotter book has sold about 100,000 copies. The second, "Tanya Grotter and the Disappearing Floor," hit bookstores late last month. Legal threats aside, Shekhov said the company plans to publish two more Grotter books this year.

Neil Blair, a lawyer and business manager at Rowling's literary agency in Britain, Christopher Little, confirmed in an e-mail that "a cease and desist letter alleging violation of intellectual property rights" was sent to Eksmo.

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AP Photo

The book "Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass" by Dmitry Yemets, sits on a shelf in a Moscow apartment. Lawyers representing Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, her Russian publisher and Warner Brothers, are threatening to sue the publisher of "Tanya Grotter and the Magical Double Bass" unless it withdraws the book and promises not to print anymore.

"I would suggest that anyone who compares the books (contents, sleeve etc.) will agree that the facts of this case speak for themselves," he said.

In China this year, a book called "Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-To-Dragon" was released bearing Rowling's name on the cover, but was written by an anonymous author. Rowling is at work on the real fifth installment, which is not expected to be finished this year.

For Russian fans waiting for the next Potter book, the Grotter series is an affordable alternative. At a large bookstore in Moscow on Wednesday, the first Grotter book sold for about $2.50, while "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," the fourth book in that series, cost $5.85.

The two series were displayed on the same shelf, but sales of both were slow. While one cashier said sales of the books were about the same, another, Natalya Starchenko, called the Grotter series an "imitation" and said sales of the Potter books were brisker.

ââ �"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secretsââ ? had its U.S. premiere Sunday in New York. The movie opens Friday nationwide.

Shekhov said the first book in the Grotter series has elements of a parody of the Potter books, but said the subsequent books are completely different. He adamantly denied accusations of plagiarism.

"It has some similarities to Harry Potter, but it it's also similar to Peter Pan - as are Rowling's works," he said.

"In Russian fairy tales, witches fly on broomsticks," he said. "That does not mean that J.K. Rowling can be accused of plagiarism."

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