business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

One of the outgrowths of the Harry Potter phenomenon - a brand estimated to be worth $25 billion dollars, with its roots in books and movies and the stage - has been fan festivals at which enthusiasts dress up as favorite characters, hold Quidditch tournaments, and enjoy events designed to celebrate their enthusiasm for the franchise.

But now, the Associated Press reports, Warner Bros. “is cracking down on local Harry Potter fan festivals around the country, saying it’s necessary to halt unauthorized commercial activity.” That means “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 is, the AP writes, “all about protecting the trademark: ‘Warner Bros. is always pleased to learn of the enthusiasm of Harry Potter fans, but we are concerned, and do object, when fan gatherings become a vehicle for unauthorized commercial activity,’ the company said.”

These are not small fan gatherings, the story notes. One last year, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, attracted 45,000 people last year.

Fans, the AP writes, “liken the move to Death Eaters sucking the joy out of homegrown fun.”

Festival organizers say that they’ll turn their events into more generic magic-themed gatherings, engaging in family-friendly “wands and wizards” nights and more adult-oriented pub crawls; if people show up dressed as Harry or Ron or Dumbledore, it won’t be their fault.

Now, let me be clear. I’m all in favor of businesses protecting their trademarks. But I also think that Warner Bros. ought to be working harder to figure how to do so without dampening the enthusiasm of their fans … enthusiasm that they should not take for granted.

Fans create their own kind of magic. It isn’t just the Harry Potter franchise. It is Star Wars and Star Trek. (Hell, Star Trek fans have made their own movies about the series’ characters, which only recently have been cracked down on by owner Paramount, which worried that they were getting a little too ambitious for the franchise’s good.) Or “Doctor Who” or “Firefly.” Or any rock band that has inspired tribute bands to perform their catalogues.

But magic needs room to breathe. I cannot help but feel that Warner Bros. is making a miscalculation here, not understanding that such fan celebrations are an Eye-Opening way to heighten the brand’s profile and even its profitability, not diminish its potential.

Then again, maybe everything will change, now that Warner Bros., as part of Time Warner, now is owned by AT&T. And we all know how good phone companies are at treating their customers…
KC's View: