Warner Bros. Turns Harry Potter Fan Events Into Events For The Franchise That Must Not Be Named
from the trademarka-kedavra dept
It’s always a weird look for companies and IP owners to go after clear expressions of fandom from their customers. And, yet, this sort of thing is done often, with fan get-togethers or festivals regularly being threatened by the IP owners they’re fans of. Often times we hear the usual nonsense trademark law excuse that fans must be served with cease and desist letters, or sued, or else the trademark owner will lose its rights. That, as we’ve discussed repeatedly, is not true, as there are other options available to the trademark holder besides threatening fans.
Warner Bros. has many of the rights to the Harry Potter franchise and the company has not been shy in the past about firing off threat letters to fan groups and festivals. Previously, Warner Bros. has claimed that it only abused fans in this way if there was a commercial aspect to the events. Even under that policy, the legal team for the studio was, shall we say, imperfect. But Warner Bros. has apparently had something of a policy shift that is causing it to go after far more of these fan events, causing Potter fans everywhere frustration and anger.
“It’s almost as if Warner Bros. has been taken over by Voldemort, trying to use dark magic to destroy the light of a little town,” said Sarah Jo Tucker, a 21-year-old junior at Chestnut Hill College, which hosts a Quidditch tournament that coincides with the annual suburban Philadelphia festival.
Philip Dawson, Chestnut Hill’s business district director, said Warner Bros. reached out to his group in May, letting them know new guidelines prohibit festivals’ use of any names, places or objects from the series. That ruled out everything from meet-and-greet with Dumbledore and Harry to Defense Against the Dark Arts classes.
“It was very quickly apparent (we) weren’t going to be able to hold festivals like years past,” he said. The late October festival drew about 45,000 fans last year to the historic neighborhood’s cobblestone streets. This year, they will instead have a “wands and wizards” family night and pub crawl and other magic-themed events — and people can still dress as their favorite characters.
As the AP notes, this policy shift is causing these notices to go out to festivals all over the country, each time stating that new policies prohibit this sort of fan-fun at local festivals. As is often the case, Warner Bros. is claiming that trademark law requires it to take these exact actions. Again, this is not true. The studio has many other options, including offering a cheap license to the festivals to allow the fun to go on while having them be officially sanctioned. That it chose not to pursue that course means that Warner Bros. is squarely more interested in being a legal bully than it is in allowing fans of its franchise to celebrate their fandom.
It’s an especially stupid track to take, given that these organic fan festivals are certainly in some part responsible for propelling the Potter franchise to the stardom it has now achieved.
Philadelphia Potter fan Sarah McIntyre thinks it’s ridiculous for Warner Bros. to target the festivals.
“They are acting like the Dursleys,” said the 34-year-old yoga teacher and bookkeeper. She said they should be encouraging communities to bring Harry Potter to life. “Creating interest in the franchise would increase revenue,” she said.
How this is not obvious to the folks at Warner Bros. is beyond me. The studio ought to want people talking about the franchise as widely as possible and it’s hard to see how fan events at local festivals would do anything other than cause new potential consumers of the franchise to generate some interest in it. As the AP takes pains to note, Warner Bros. is certainly within its rights here, or is at least likely so. But that doesn’t make this is a smart business decision, never mind the most optimal outcome for its franchise. Instead, it comes off as purely unfriendly to fans, which is just not a good look for an entertainment product.