Court Orders Harry Potter Purchasers to Return Book

A British Columbia court has ordered purchasers of the new Harry Potter book to return it immediately and forbid anyone from discussing any elements contained in the book itself.  The latest instalment of Harry Potter apparently goes on sale on Saturday but at least one BC bookseller began selling it in advance.  The publisher wasn't particularly pleased and obtained a court order stopping the bookseller (or any bookseller) from selling the book until the official release date.

While that is understandable, the remainder of the court order is a bit harder to take.  People have legitimately purchased the book, yet now face violation of a court order if they fail to return it immediately, discuss it, or do anything else with the book.  While a court might look skeptically on an attempt to bring an action against a purchaser who fails to return the book, why the court would grant such a broad order that reaches down to the underlying purchasers suggests that this could turn into a real horror story.

Update: I've posted a further update on this story that seeks to address the misconception that the case involves stolen versions of the book.

Update II: I've posted a second additional comment to supplement what I have come to realize was an understated reaction to this case.  The scope of the injunction is remarkably broad and represents a direct attack on Canadian freedoms.


  1. Potter Vrs the World
    i guess we can just assume hat the whole IP issue is now OFFICIALLY out of control, and that the Court is just Over reacting ?

  2. I would submit that your premise that “people have legitimatley purchased the book” is misguided.

    You might better have phrased it, “people inadvertantly purchased stolen property.”

    Let’s be very careful that our zeal for civil liberty doesn’t get silly. The book is *not* for sale at this time per the publisher. If someone is circulating the text at this point, then they are doing it in direct contravention of what the publisher intended.

    Are you sure this is the sort of issue you want to engage in the name of copyfight? Do you really want to defend the notion that stolen text belongs in the public domain?

  3. To comment #1:
    I’m not sure I’d count the book as stolen. Appropriate money was (presumably) paid by the bookseller to the distributor, and by the customers to the bookseller. That the bookseller breached their contract with the distributor in selling it before the release doesn’t make the book stolen property, to my mind.

    This should strictly be a breach-of-contract dispute between distributor and reseller – As far as I can see, the book was legitimately purchased by the retail customers.

  4. Discussion not allowed?
    Hold on a second. I might be able to be convinced that buyers had to return the books, since maybe by some very broad definition of the word, they could be considered “stolen”. But they’re not even allowed to discuss the contents? Excuse me? That’s absolute BS. I can discuss whatever I want. What happened to free speech?

  5. It’s like that, here. When the government is plastic, and it governs a plastic sort of commercial mileu, and the people are, for the most part, from Ontario, what can one expect.

    She was making too much money anyway.

  6. Heck, if I had bought one of those books, I’d feel almost compelled to discuss it after that court order.

    I can’t imagine that holding up if it were taken to court. These people did not sign a contract as they were buying the book!

  7. Disgusting.
    If I had the book, I would write a full review and discuss the plot in detail.

    The publisher should be on their knees thanking the gods for all this free publicity. An “exclusive” review would be even better.

    I really hope someone does this, just to prove the point. Since when does a FOREIGN author have more respect from the courts than one of our own citizens? It really makes me sick.

  8. “I really hope someone does this, just to prove the point. Since when does a FOREIGN author have more respect from the courts than one of our own citizens? It really makes me sick.”

    Wow. Now you don’t look like a self-entitled fanbrat at /all/. The law is on her side. Suck it up.

  9. Stolen?
    No way. Those consumers were good faith purchasers for value. Would you prefer a rule requiring a consumer’s investigation as to whether or not the text is yet for sale, one wholly independent of what the bookstore he/she is browsing in’s position on the matter is?

    It would make a hell of a lot more sense to confine possible liability on the bookseller here.

  10. well
    its a tough call all around but one thing that is being forgotten in all this is that (even thought i am well over 30 and a huge fan) the books are for kids and what kind of message are we sending to them? Writing a full review and publishing it just ruins the experience of the book…for all fans most of whom are kids…thats the whole point of release dates. the seller of that book did more than just release a book a little early. these books and the story within are actually important to a lot of people (the date has been marked on my calender since they announced it, we are all geeks about something) and the actions of the bookstores in question are taking away from that. this is not about money (they would get that anyway, eventually) this is about the owenership of intellectual property for lack of a better expression. what i mean is this: even after the book is relased on saturday if my brother (who will no doubt read more of it than i will get to saturday) tells me one thing about the story i will be very disapointed that i didnt get to experience what ever he tells me for myself and then exact some good old fashioned brother/sister revenge;) that is what the “do not discuss” is about…i think…

  11. This is not an issue the courts should be wasting their time with. It’s one thing if they go after the seller, who did violate a release date, but going after the customers makes the judge and the court system look silly. It’s only a book, not something like a court transcript.

    It would be one thing if the judge ASKED that no customers discussed the book, but to ORDER them to stay silent and return the book is going overboard. (They could just keep the book closed until the release date, couldn’t they?) In a week it won’t matter anyways.

    This sort of action could only hurt pre-orders of books since customers would be afraid of getting sued.

  12. The books sold before the release date were not “stolen”, they were goods that a retailer properly acquired from a distributor and improperly sold before an agreed-upon date. That is at worst a breach of contract, not theft.

    As for the court order that purchasers are required to return the book and not to discuss the contents of the book–what madness is this? It is now a thought crime to know a few days too soon that Dumbledore dies? Why on earth would a court even consider prosecuting a person for talking about a book? (Say…that court order applies only to people who bought the book, right?)

    The publisher’s intentions may have been contravened and they are well within their rights to cease doing business with that retail store. They may even ask that the customers in question return the books (perhaps with some incentive…say, the author’s signature when the book is returned to the purchaser). But the idea that the publisher would seek the force of law to punish fans of the series–and that the courts would agree–is just outrageous.

  13. What exactly is the legal right that is being enforced here?

    It isn’t copyright since copying the book was authorised by the rights holders. Reading and discussing a book are not regulated by copyright, no permission is required for either,ever.

    If it is a contractual right arising from a contract between publisher and book seller then by what possible legal theory does this contractual right extend to strangers to the contract?

    If anyone who buys an item in good faith, from someone else who owns it, or at least is legitimately in possession of it then property as we know it has ceased to exist.

    If the legitimate purchaser can be made to return the item at any time then those contracts of sale are being violated. Why must one contract be violated for the sake of enforcing another?

    The references by other posters to stolen property are entirely mistaken, the book sellers rather than the publishers are the owners of the copies. While the publisher may retain the copyright, which prohibits copying, the books themselves are the property of the seller, who has taken delivery of them.

    Even if they are not the property of the seller, although how the seller could transfer ownership unless he had iit himself is opaque, the publisher, by giving the books to the seller, gave the impression that the seller was the owner and therefore is estopped from denying it.

    The mere fact that its contrary to the publishers intention’ that the seller violated that contract is irrelevant, since many of us have intentions that are thwarted, frequently, and yet the courts don’t allow us to enforce our intentions against strangers without a specific legal right.

    So what could the basis of the order possibly be?

    Andrew Rens

  14. Idiotic.
    What are my opinions on this? Pointless. It’s quite stupid on why you would take the time on typing this. It’s the 6th book, oh my God, it’s not like it’s a controversy over it. Don’t treat it like that.

    And furthermore, why are you protecting the people who haven’t read it? It’s nice for spoilers, yes. And the elements in the book? Wow, read Hellsing or something else, then we’ll talk about darker elements.

    I’m disgusted on some of this.

  15. Witch Hunt
    Isn’t it within keeping the court to hex anyone who would speak of the Potter tales without permission of dark side? Certainly Canada isn’t known for its logic or its penchant for personal freedom. I would like to see the witches that they have hired to bust those who dare to speak the unspoken.

  16. A Few Clarifications
    Michael Geist here – a couple of clarifications. First, these books were not stolen. The distributor mistakenly forgot to include an embargo notice (do not sell until Saturday) on the box and the grocery store that sold the 14 books in question simply placed them on the shelves. There should be no allegations that the purchasers have done anything wrong here as they simply bought books available for sale.

    Second, Andrew Rens properly notes that the legal basis for the order against the purchasers is what is particularly confusing. I suspect that this was simply a case of the publisher presenting the judge with its “best case” order that covered everything. It was a Saturday, counsel claimed it was urgent, and the judge simply granted the order. I can’t think of a legal basis for the provisions as against the individual purchasers and I think that the use of copyright law in this context is a gross misuse of the law by the publisher and their counsel. While I doubt it would withstand any legal scrutiny, lawyers shouldn’t be asking for these kind of orders and judges certainly shouldn’t be granting them.


  17. Boycott on HP #6
    A few brief points:

    #1 The Books in question were NOT stolen.
    #2 Only the store something wrong.
    #3 The Court order is completely unenforceable
    #4 The book in question can already be found online and has been available that way for 2 weeks+
    #5 I did some checking and in 45min work I found 12+ copies online and 2 local stores to me that were perfectly willing to sell the book to me today!

    I say we all should boycott the new HP book until such time Raincoast books issues a public apology for their part in this stupidity and helps put pressure on the BC courts to not only kill this stupid order but throw the braindead waste of space off the bench that was stupid enough to issue it in the first place.

    Ohh and one more thought.. it’s ONLY A BOOK!… gods they need to get a life big time.