Potter author sues over early release

'Order of the Phoenix' copies slip into reader hands before Saturday

Friday, June 20, 2003

— The author of the Harry Potter book series slapped the Daily News with a $100 million lawsuit after the newspaper published tidbits about the fifth novel four days before its official release.

The News said it bought a copy of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" from a health food store that had mistakenly put the book out for sale Wednesday despite an embargo until Saturday.

A Walgreens drugstore in Daytona Beach also put a handful of copies out early, to the delight of one 14-year-old girl.

"I feel like I'm the luckiest kid in America and Britain," said Kaitlin Webster, who restrained herself to a single copy Wednesday.

"I debated about buying them all," she admitted. "But ... we only needed one."

By that evening, the store had taken the two or three remaining copies off the shelf.

The lawsuit against the News, prepared by lawyers for author J.K. Rowling and U.S. publisher Scholastic Inc., claims the newspaper damaged Rowling's intellectual property rights and harmed Scholastic's $3 million worldwide marketing campaign.

The book -- the fifth installment of the adventures of the boy wizard -- has been under extraordinary security ahead of its release. In a statement, Scholastic said it hoped "this unfortunate situation will not spoil the surprise for millions of children around the country who have been eagerly awaiting the book."

"We will vigorously defend any action and are confident we did nothing wrong journalistically or legally," Daily News spokesman Ken Frydman said.

The News story contained what it called a "brief glimpse into the 870 action-packed pages" of the novel. An accompanying graphic displayed two of the novel's pages, with legible text.

The News said the health store owner received a shipment of four books from a wholesaler and decided to put them in the window. The owner told the paper he didn't know he was supposed to wait until Saturday. The paper withheld the name of the store and its owner.

The book goes on sale at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.