Obtaining a John Doe order

Another
Harry Potter book, another attempt to sell a stolen copy to the media –
in fact the third Harry Potter book where this has happened. This time
a shot was fired in the vicinity of a Sun reporter, fortunately causing
no damage worse than an appalling flurry of puns in the tabloid.

Drastic
measures were called for, so while the police dealt with the two men
who demanded initially £30,000, then upped to £50,000, from The Sun in
return for what appeared to be a genuine copy of the book, Reynolds
Porter Chamberlain was called in with John Baldwin QC and Andrew
Lykiardopoulos of 8 New Square to obtain a John Doe injunction from Mr
Justice Lawrence Collins. In entering into the spirit of things – one
would have to describe this as a spell yet more potent and wideranging
than that brewed up two years ago to protect Harry Potter and the Order
of the Phoenix.

Previously the incidents had involved printers.
On this occasion it involved a security guard at one of the
distributors and, as with the last book, has resulted in criminal
proceedings.

On 3 June, acting on behalf of Harry Potter author
JK Rowling and Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, an injunction was obtained to
protect the confidentiality of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,
which is embargoed from publication until 00.01am on 16 July. This
embargo would cover the contents of the book including its themes,
character, storylines and any other information that could only be
obtained by reading the book.

The two individuals involved were
subject to orders prohibiting them from disclosing any information
concerning the book or dealing in any way with any copies of the book
or disclosing any part of any copies they might have to any third
parties. However, the real significance of the order was the extent to
which it impacts on unknown persons who might be minded to disclose any
details of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince or to obtain a copy
of the book. This device – much used in the US – is known as a John Doe
order and it is directed against any such wrongdoers even though their
identities are not yet known.

In the case of Harry Potter and the
Order of the Phoenix the John Doe order extended only to the
unidentified individuals who had offered to sell the book to the
publishers of The Sun, The Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. However, on
this occasion the order extends to any person or persons who have or
have had physical possession of a copy of Harry Potter and the
Half-Blood Prince or any part thereof without the consent of the
claimants. All such persons are liable to be in contempt of court if
they make any disclosure of the contents of the book or deal in any way
with any copies of the book.

While tabloids have written
extensively about the forthcoming publication of the next Harry Potter
book they have very properly declined any opportunity to make
unauthorised disclosures of the contents of the book and have
acknowledged the legitimate protection of readers’ anticipation and
interest in the launch of the book. This welcome extension of the John
Doe order means that those who set out to destroy this sense of
anticipation and excitement – usually for money – face a day of
reckoning in court.

David Hooper is a partner in the media and technology department of City law firm Reynolds Porter Chamberlain

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