There used to be a rather charming Web site dedicated to the teenage wizard Harry Potter, hero of the best selling Harry Potter children’s book series written by JK Rowling. At least, the site was there until about a week ago. If any unsuspecting child, parent or Harry Potter fan were to type www.harrypotterisawizard.co.uk into their browser now, all they would get is a site promoting forthcoming Warner Bros. movie releases in the US.
There used to be a rather charming Web site dedicated to the
teenage wizard Harry Potter, hero of the best selling Harry Potter
children’s book series written by JK Rowling. At least, the site was
there until about a week ago. If any unsuspecting child, parent or Harry
Potter fan were to type www.harrypotterisawizard.co.uk into their
browser now, all they would get is a site promoting forthcoming Warner
Bros. movie releases in the US.
Huh? No mention of Harry Potter? Nope. About the nearest you’ll get to
Harry Potter is some leftover promotion for one of last year’s hit
movies, The Iron Giant.
Now, The Iron Giant is a fine film, but it’s not likely to satisfy
anyone looking for Harry Potter.
The reason is that Warner Bros. has bought the movie rights to the first
two of the three Harry Potter books and has decided that any associated
domain names are rightfully the property of Warner Bros. And what else
is a poor old just-taken-over corporation to do but send in the lawyers,
giving Nicholas Mitchell, the site’s creator, 14 days to hand over the
domain name. And given that Mitchell is simply a fan of the books and
not making any money from the site, what could he do but comply.
Companies face a difficult decision in dealing with fan Web sites. They
can be a tremendous asset, as they are created by your most enthusiastic
followers. They are not only your best customers but also the ones who
will spread the word on your behalf, freely and willingly doing the same
work that it would take countless advertising and PR dollars to do. Get
on the wrong side of them, however, and they can also be your worst
Somebody who spends their time nurturing a site like
Harrypotterisawizard.co.uk could very easily start devoting his energies
Of course, if companies fail to vigorously protect their trademarks and
intellectual property, courts will take any attempt to do so in the
future less seriously.
But Warner’s handling of the whole thing seems particularly heavy-handed
for a number of reasons. The company has offended not only the creator
of the site but also the respectable following the site built up in the
few months that it was going. Not only is there nothing about Harry
Potter on the site when you key in that address; there is not even a
word of explanation why you have landed somewhere completely different
from where you were expecting. There is not a hint of a forthcoming
Harry Potter movie.
There is a better way to handle fan sites. That is to protect vigorously
certain key trademarks while letting fan sites use related words or
phrases in their names, to allow them the freedom to thrive and work on
There are few better examples than Lucasfilm’s handling of the many Star
Wars fan sites. Lucasfilm owns Starwars.com, yet allowed fan sites such
as www.jedinet.com, and www.theforce.net to help build an online frenzy
of anticipation for the release of Episode I.
Warner Bros. could have done the same with Harry Potter. But that will
never happen as long as cold-hearted lawyers are the company’s preferred
way of dealing with the people who could be its strongest PR
- Stovin Hayter is editor-in-chief of Revolution, scheduled to launch in
March. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.