Author credit or plagiarism

by Missy
(Vermont)

I am in the process of writing a novel. In it, the main character is introduced to the "Harry Potter" books, and then learns that she and the characters are more alike than she originally thought.

She eventually learns that her mother had a magical past, although not in the wizard sense. Although I will probably never try to publish my work, I wanted to know if it was OK to use references to Harry Potter and other characters/situations.

I want to give the author credit and am not trying to pass it off as my own work. Would this still be considered plagiarism?


ANSWER

First, good for you for wanting to do the right thing and provide an author credit. Plagiarism is such a serious legal issue and infringement on an author's rights. It is good to see young writers being conscientious about this.

To answer your question, I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I understand, there is nothing wrong with a character in your book mentioning Harry Potter or discussing the book or the characters. Harry Potter books are so well known now that you would be hard pressed to find a person who did not know that the books are written by J.K. Rowling. Mentioning the title or main character is similar to mentioning any other well known name.

However, you would not want to copy passages from the Harry Potter books into your own book. You might get away with a character quoting a few words in the context of reading from one of the novel, if it is clearly stated which novel the words come from, but in most cases you will need permission from the author to use even a short passage, and I'm not sure how much is too much.

To find out for sure, you would need to contact the permissions lawyer at the publishing house, and the publisher would grant or not grant permission, and require that you pay a fee for the passage used.

Journalists, educators, students, researchers, and critics may use short, properly credited passages in their work without seeking special permission, in what is called the "fair use" concept, but this doesn't normally apply to other creative works.

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