By Jack Malvern, Arts Reporter and Richard Cleroux in Ottawa
WHILE the rest of the world must wait until midnight on Friday to read the latest Harry Potter adventure, a handful of fans in a Canadian commuter town might know the book’s secrets because a supermarket broke the embargo.
Fourteen fans bought Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince from The Real Canadian Superstore in Coquitlam on the west coast of Canada before managers realised their mistake. But readers will be unable to share their knowledge after Raincoast Books, the book’s Canadian publisher, was granted a “John Doe” injunction prohibiting the buyers from even reading their copies before the publication date.
The supreme court of British Columbia issued a court order preventing anyone from “displaying, reading, offering for sale, selling or exhibiting in public” their books. J. K. Rowling’s legal advisers said that the author was entitled to prevent buyers from reading their own books even though they had not broken the law.
“The fact is that this is property that should not have been in their possession,” said Neil Blair, a legal specialist for Christopher Little, the author’s literary agent. “Copyright holders are entitled to protect their work. If the content of the book is confidential until July 16, which it is, why shouldn’t someone who has the physical book be prevented from reading it and thereby obtaining the confidential information? How they came to have access to the book is immaterial.”
British lawyers described the injunction as “unfair and excessive” but added that the reader did not have a right in law to read the book. Korieh Duodu, a media lawyer for David Price Solicitors and Advocates, said: “I have never heard of such a wide-ranging order. One sympathises with the reader from a non-legal point of view, but property rights often trump civil liberties. There is no human right to read.”
The injunction has already been tested after one buyer attempted to sell the book on eBay, an internet auction website. Mr Blair intervened and the sale has been halted. Other buyers have volunteered to return their copies, he said.
The injunction is similar to a court order imposed in England and Wales after two men from Kettering, Northamptonshire, allegedly stole a copy from a warehouse and attempted to sell details to TheSun newspaper. The order states that anyone who discloses names of new characters or plot details will be in contempt of court. It applies even to books acquired in good faith.
Raincoast Books has attempted to persuade buyers to return their books by offering a bookplate signed by J. K. Rowling and a T-shirt. Bloomsbury, the British publisher of Harry Potter, has given warning that any shop breaking the embargo will have further stock witheld.
Jo Marino, a spokeswoman for Waterstone’s, said that book chains would receive copies no earlier than Thursday. “At our branches someone must be with the books all the time to ensure that no one scampers off with them.”
A spokesman for Loblaw Companies, which owns the The Real Canadian Superstore, said that the book had not been leaked maliciously, but only through “inadvertent error”.