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Harry Potter clampdown disgusts all but power-crazed conglomerate

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It's at it again. Actually, it never stopped. Warner Bros/Time Warner is pushing its weight around and sending threatening legal letters to young Harry Potter fans because they have had the audacity to register a domain name with the words 'harry' and 'potter' in it.

A 15-year-old Singaporean girl, Christie Chan, has received a strongly worded lawyer's letter telling her to hand over www.harrypotternetwork.net to Warner because of copyright infringement. Again, it used the name of author JK Rowling, although no one has yet to garner Ms Rowling's opinion because she won't talk to anyone.

We've been through all this before Christmas with the disgraceful pressure put on 15-year-old Claire Field to hand over www.harrypotterguide.co.uk. Warner Brothers suffered some bad publicity but came up with a cunning countering PR plan (more of that later) and is now behaving like nothing happened.

What makes Christie's case even more emotive is the fact that she doesn't even use the domain because she thinks it "awful" as a URL. So on the one hand we have a teenager's fickleness deciding she doesn't really like a URL and on the other a huge conglomerate convinced that the self-same URL is some form of global plot to pull dollars out of its greasy palms. It really is depressing how global companies continue to justify outrageous, immoral behaviour through profit or control.

Interestingly, the letter sent to Ms Chan referred to ICANN regarding Harry Potter: "We have previously filed compaints with ICANN to recover domain names which incorporate the Harry Potter properties," it said. This is a direct reference to the clever PR coup the company pulled off just before Christmas, which, thanks to most of the media's pomposity, will restrict further reporting on the Harry Potter cybersquatter issue.

Put simply, Warner Bros was under growing pressure for the way it was dealing with the Harry Potter issue. Fortunately, it also had a case coming up before WIPO which involved a blatant cybersquatter. HarperStephens had registered 107 Harry Potter domain names and not put any of them to use. It was a cut-and-dried case. It won, recognised the opportunity, and preceded to put all its corporate weight behind getting the story into the press.

Not only did it manage to get this relatively uninteresting story (there have been a lot more interesting WIPO cases) in just about every UK national newspaper (and many US papers too), it also managed to reinvent WIPO to give the story some credibility. WIPO was no longer WIPO but the United Nations' WIPO. Hence the "UN decides in favour of Time Warner" headlines. Now, WIPO has been transformed into "ICANN, the governing body for Internet domain names" for the sake of Warners' threatening letters. It all stinks to high heaven.

But, you see, now the Harry Potter issue with regard to domain names has been covered, most papers won't see the trees for the wood. So a company that registers 107 domain names for profit becomes akin to a 15-year-old girl that is a fan of the Harry Potter books. And now Warner Brothers can continue stamping on the very fans that will make its bloody film a success without fear of bad publicity.

However, Christie Chan has vowed to fight the company over her domain name, Claire Field still has control of hers (and has had offers of legal defence) and a bloke called Alastair Alexander has set up www.potterwar.org.uk to protest against Warner Brothers' behaviour. It may just start to swing the other way again.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros will continue to placate difficult questions with half-truths and legal gibberish while its lawyers fire out letters to schoolkids. ®

Related Links

HarryPotterNetwork.net
HarryPotterguide.co.uk
PotterWar.org.uk

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WIPO reinvents itself as part of UN
The Harry Potter bullying debacle

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