Warner threatens Harry Potter fan sites

Our URLs, not yours

Warner Brothers is setting the attack dogs on Harry Potter fan Web sites. The media giant which has film rights to two Harry Potter books, is demanding that Web sites such as harrypotterisawizard.co.uk transfer their names to the company. More than 50 Web sites are devoted to JK Rowling and her blockbusting Harry Potter books for children. But there is little if any evidence of any attempts by the site operators to deceive or pass themselves off as the official Harry Potter experience, merchandising and all. Bloomsbury, Rowling's publisher, confirmed that Warner has merchandising rights to the Harry Potter books. This isn't the first company which has attempted to round up fan site URLs; other examples include Paramount, with Star Trek, the BBC, with Teletubbies, and Porsche, with -- er -- Porsche. By stomping on the Harry Potter fan sites, Warner may succeed in stopping unofficial merchandise sales. The company has the money and the firepower to beat the Harry Potter fan sites into submission. However, it appears unlikely that Warner can insist on domain name transfer, although it could prevail in court if it has the requisite intellectual property rights. But, as with the character Jeeves, the only protection is for illustrations, since there can be no valid copyright in the name of a character. So far Warner has done nothing about a Harry Potter Web site other than to direct those who hit harrypotter.net to its own consumer Web site. Since the purpose of fan sites is promotion, it seems particularly silly of Warner to decide against harnessing the enthusiasm, and to act in this way. Some Harry Potter fans accuse Warner of trying to limit the dissemination of adverse reviews of films, and they see putting clamps on Web sites as one way the film company is trying to do this. They hope that Jo Rowling, who has been informed about developments but has not yet reacted, will intervene and sponsor an official site. But she may have had to sign away all rights to a website and be unable to act. Film contracts are renowned to be some of the thickest in the lawyering business. London-based Bloomsbury told the The Register that it will re-launch its Web site and include more about Harry Potter later this year. Warner had not returned our call at press time. ® Register goes to the Movies Many years ago, Warner tried to stop the Marx Brothers using the title "Night in Casablanca", because it had made an earlier film called "Casablanca". At the time, Groucho wrote to Warner Brothers asking if they thought they had the rights to "Brothers", pointing out they had been brothers before Warner had been invented, and that before them were the Brothers Karamazov. Related stories efax.com fights efax.co.uk Microsoft bullies IT news site into submission

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