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Muggles and Moral Rights

Gary Pulsinelli at the University of Tennessee has posted the paper that a lot of IP scholars thought of writing when they read a certain passage in the last Harry Potter book, in which Harry retrieves the sword of Godric Gryffindor — forged by goblins, and in their view therefore still owned by goblins, regardless of possession — from a vault at Gringotts bank.  The question that occurred to IP scholars everywhere was:  Does the goblins’ worldview have any traction among muggles?  Here’s the abstract for the paper:

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, author J.K. Rowling attributes to goblins a very interesting view of ownership rights in artistic works. According to Rowling, goblins believe that the maker of an artistic object maintain an ongoing ownership interest in that object even after it is sold, and is entitled to get it back when the purchaser dies. While this view may strike some as rather odd when it is applied to tangible property in the “muggle” world, it actually has some very interesting parallels to the legal treatment of intangible property, particularly in the areas of intellectual property and moral rights. Because of the way these parallels have been developing and growing, we seem to be becoming more goblinish in our willingness to recognize ongoing rights in artistic objects, including allowing the artist to collect a commission on subsequent resale of the work. Practical and social considerations suggest that we are unlikely to go as far as recognizing a permanent personal right in the creator that lets him or her reclaim such an object after a sale or other transfer is made. However, we are moving closer to recognizing some forms of the collective right that the goblins actually seem to demand, a cultural moral right in important cultural objects that enables the descendants of that culture as a group to demand the return of the object. Thus, we muggles may not be as far from the goblins as we may have at first believed.

Link to the paper

Meanwhile, J.K. Rowling has a bit of goblin in her as well. Online Potter fansites are fine, but when they turn material — and threaten her own material reward — then they are problematic.

1 thought on “Muggles and Moral Rights”

  1. That leads to an obvious bit of practical advice: if you’re with an artist in a burning bank vault, don’t count on them not to take their painting back and immediately disapparate.

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