J.K. Rowling created a magical world for readers of her Harry Potter books. This magic quickly spread to become one of the most valuable intellectual property assets in the world. It has spawned movies and a theme park. From small beginnings writing on napkins to a major entertainment company owning all the IP rights, the value of the Harry Potter Trademark took off at an exponential pace. With an empire now to protect, trademark infringement issues with Warner Bros. Entertainment, have forced a growing Halloween festival in Scottsville, Virginia dedicated to the world of Harry Potter to be scrapped.
For the past three Halloweens, Scottsville has hosted a Harry Potter Festival. It all began after a local shop transformed itself into Honeydukes, the fictional candy shop in the Harry Potter books. Momentum grew from there and the rest of the town joined in. It grew from 800 visitors in year one, to 10,000 visitors visiting last year with over 25 local shops participating. As the event expanded, local shop owners formed the “Ministry of Magic”, a group set up to plan the annual event. Local businesses transformed into several of the shops and locations described in the Harry Potter books, calling themselves after the places in the books. The event began to take on a life of its own.
As word spread about the Harry Potter Festival, Warner Bros. trademark and IP attorneys got word. Prior to Halloween this year, representatives from Warner Bros. reached out, in a polite way, to the “Ministry of Magic” to let them know that the branding and intellectual property around Harry Potter are protected and their use must be authorized by Warner Bros. The event organizers were obviously disappointed with the news, but are vowing to get creative next year and create their own wizarding world that doesn’t copy directly from Harry Potter.
Despite Warner Bros. appearing to some as the bad guy ruining all the fun, picking on a small town, as valuable as the Harry Potter brand is, Warner Bros. needs to be vigilant about protecting its rights. Warner Bros. doesn’t control the entire idea of a magical world, but when specific references and elements of the story are used, it can damage the good will associated with the Harry Potter franchise and dilute intellectual property rights acquired from J.K. Rowling. Hopefully, the town can come up with some imaginative ideas around magic and wizardry that capture the same type of fun as Harry Potter, but are different enough that they don’t infringe Warner Bros.’ intellectual property rights.
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