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Warner Bros backs down on Harry Potter Web site

Suddenly Claire Field is the conglomerate's best friend. Funny that...

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Well, that didn't take long. One week after we got a little indignant about Warner Brothers sending 15-year-old Claire Field a legal letter demanding she hand over her www.harrypotterguide.co.uk domain, the giant conglomerate has backed down and waxed lyrical about how wonderful her site is, what a great fan she is etc etc, you know the drill.

There's little doubt that this decision was due to media pressure - The Mirror in particular helped The Reg in its crusade - but interest from other national media including the BBC and Independent obviously helped WB see things a little clearer.

Actually, that's not true, it was a "clerical error" and there had been a "terrible misunderstanding". That what WB's head of publicity had to say anyway. In fact, so impressed is WB by Claire's site (which, frankly, is better that all the bells-and-whistles official sites) that it might give Claire a free licence to become an official Potter site. Wow! Lucky girl.

Of course what you need to understand is how Warner Brothers deals with issues such as this without getting a permanent bad press. The company has a solid history of firing legal letters at people it feels are infringing its trademarks. It more or less wiped out Bablyon 5 unofficial fan sites and since it got its hands on the Harry Potter film has been stamping on domains that simply include the name.

It's not stupid, however. While legal notice has been served on the owner of harrypotterfan.co.uk, the owner of harrypotterfan.com says that WB hasn't even contacted him. It's not hard to see why - a dotcom battle is a story and bad publicity, a co.uk isn't. This is probably why it thought it was on safe ground with the harrypotterguide.co.uk URL. The shame is that WB withdrawing from this case is unlikely to have any effect at all on its future behaviour.

The official stance is that WB will tolerate any fan site that doesn't seek to pass itself off as official or try to sell anything on the back of its trademark. The reality is somewhat different.

As for the free licence thing - well, that's a clever bit of spin. Warner Brothers runs an affiliate system where people can have their fan sites as long as they sign up with WB and hand over some cash. This system gives it easy money but its greatest use is to provide a corporate, defendable policy. How can Warner Brothers be bad when it has all these fan sites it doesn't run? And even lets them join a WB community and benefit from the up-to-date info it can provide etc etc etc.

Granting Claire Field a free licence brings her into the fold, strengthens the status quo and lets the company look magnanimous. Great, innit? ®

Related Stories

Reg to fight for Harry Potter 'cybersquatter'
Warner Brothers bullies girl over Harry Potter site

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