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Potter copycat casts spell over Russia

Moscow, April 13: With his boyish blond hair, clear blue eyes and sweet smile, Russian author Dmitry Yemets is disarmingly likable for someone accused of plagiarism.

Author J.K. Rowling sued him in an Amsterdam court, alleging that Yemets was a copycat with his book, Tanya Grotter i Volshebny Kontrabas (Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass).

Yemets’ Dutch publisher, Byblos, lost the case earlier this month and was ordered not to publish the book in the Netherlands, but plans to appeal.

The court decision fires a warning to publishing houses elsewhere in Europe, Asia and the US to steer clear of Tanya Grotter, but it does nothing to control the spread of Tanya Grotter in Russia.

Tanya Grotter emerged last year and quickly took off. After issuing legal threats in Russia, Rowling and Time Warner, which has made two of her books into films, took action not in Moscow but Amsterdam.

The case illustrates the difficulties of enforcing intellectual property law in Russia, where video, DVD and software pirates churn out their wares with cheeky disregard for copyright law and where police crackdowns are sporadic.

The idea of Harry Potter as a brand name to be defended against pretenders in court is lost on the Russian literary world — in a country where authorities are lackadaisical about enforcing copyright and intellectual property laws. In fact, many Russian critics defend Yemets as a talented writer who did no harm with Tanya Grotter, arguing that the Grotter series is a valid literary endeavour.

Yemets insists Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass is a light-hearted parody of the Harry Potter books that gained a life of its own in the three successive books he rushed out in less than a year.

“I believe in my books,” says Yemets, 29, who has been deflecting approaches from low-budget Russian filmmakers. “Manuscripts don’t burn. I sincerely believe that Tanya Grotter is a good book and it won’t disappear because good books don’t sink without a trace.”

The Amsterdam court rejected the argument that the book was a parody and ruled that its publication would violate copyright and trademark laws.

There are plot similarities between Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass. Both heroes are 10-year-old orphans who attend wizardry schools and battle evil wizards. Potter rides a broomstick and Grotter rides a double bass. Yemets says his initial idea was to create Tanya Grotter as Harry Potter’s antithesis. But he argues that his books have diverged in style from the increasingly dark and gothic Harry Potter books.

Yemets says his books are comic fantasy and romance, and Tanya Grotter is a rebellious figure who sometimes dabbles in black magic.

Yemets’ books don’t match Harry Potter’s Russian sales of 1.5 million in the last nine months, but he’s a significant competitor, selling 600,000 copies in that period. He is also a fast writer. Yemets has published 20 books and it takes him three months to write a 300-page Grotter novel.

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