Essays and discussions
Harry Potter vs WB
Harry Potter. The boy that the whole world and its dog (barring my mate Jonathan) loves. Being a fan and owning my own website, how could I not write about young Harry? Well, the question arises of what to talk about. Everything about the books has been discussed elsewhere better than I could do here. Okay then, what about the film? Ah ha! I'm glad that you asked about that! It's time to reveal the hidden agenda behind this page – Warner Brothers.
I'm not dedicating this page to Harry Potter (other than implicitly); like I said above, there are many sites that do that much better than I ever could (you can find a selection of these at the end of this article) but I will highlight the actions that AOL-Time Warner (TW), the makers of the Harry Potter film, have been taking against fan websites of Harry Potter. The more that I read about this, the more that I become incensed at the attitude of TW towards their fans.
To recap, TW reacted against Internet Harry Potter fandom by sending solicitors' letters to website owners (many of whom were in their early teens) who had "Harry Potter" or anything related to the Potter books in the domain name telling them that they were infringing copyright and requesting them to hand over the domain name to TW with a threat of legal action to follow if they didn't. The case came to the attention of the general public in Britain when TW applied this tactic to 15 year old Claire Fields, owner of harrypotterguide.co.uk. Rather than submit, Claire contacted the British newspaper The Mirror who ran a story which was subsequently picked up by The Register and this along with publicity from other cases such as that against Christine Chan, owner of HarryPotterNetwork.net, has lead to the formation of several campaigns against TW, most notably Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potter War (now defunct), both of which are asking fans to boycott all Potter merchandise that TW produces and are producing a petition that will subsequently be sent to TW.
I fully support this position and am certainly planning on boycotting both TW merchandise and the upcoming film, although not, I have to say, the books. This may be a contradictory position, but as far as I know, TW will not make any money from the books themselves, but from the merchandise relating to the books. Whether it's right to buy the books when the money goes to lining the pockets of the author who some believe has sold out to the corporate types (see this Juicy Cerebellum article) is another matter altogether and after some thought I have come to the conclusion that I, personally, will continue to buy the books. Unlike TW, JK Rowling is a single person and as such, I'll leave it to her conscience as to what action to take.
The more that I read about this case, the more that one thing in particular strikes me - the corporate arrogance of TW and other companies like it. This is something that I have always been dimly aware of but it has been brought sharply into focus by a case that relates so closely to something that I really like. They think that they can just stomp all over people just because they are a large corporation. The scary thing is that for a large amount of time, they do stomp all over people without being noticed. That our society has descended to this level is something that deeply worries me. Capitalism has grown unchecked too far and too fast and now the corporate world thinks that it can get away with anything.
Well, in this case they got it so wrong! The corporate world is still stuck in a pre-Internet world. They didn't realise the power of the Internet to unite the fans into a community (and I make no apologies for using that word - in this case I believe that it's entirely deserved) that has turned out to be stronger than the combined might of TW. The negative publicity resulting from this case appears to have stung TW hard. This case has left the realm of corporate law and has entered the popular media, being reported in the news from the Guardian to USA Today. An article on ZDNet invites readers to comment on the article and of the 50 or so comments on the site, I counted two that were defending TW, showing just how disgruntled that the people are.
A point that has been made before is that it was the Internet fandom that made the Harry Potter books as well known as they now are. The first book was not expected to do well at all. It was the word-of-mouth recommendation made possible by the Internet that created the very icon that TW is now so jealously trying to "protect".
The other major point that corporate lawyers just can't seem to get their heads around is that fan websites are, by and large, a good thing! They are rarely, if ever, built for profit and generate the kind of free publicity that marketers can only dream about. They whinge about copyright dilution (or whatever the technical term is) but don't realise that the fan sites are not competing against official sites but complementing them. The fans want Harry Potter to be successful as much as TW do (albeit for very different reasons) so are likely to do everything in their power to avoid bringing the name into disrepute.
Corporations also tend to forget that the last 'W' in WWW stands for 'web'. The web consists of millions of documents that are linked to others. Fans are generally respectful of the copyright holders and do link back to the official sites which can only be a good thing for not only the corporation in question. However after this debacle, I doubt that I will ever visit the official Harry Potter website again. It also has to be said that many of the fan websites are better than the official site. They might not be as slick but they contain vastly more information and obviously have the care and attention to detail that shows that they have been produced by true fans.
Something that amused me was the claim on the TW website that TW "is committed to serving the public interest by using our unique talents and resources to enrich people's lives and strengthen communities around the world" (Thanks to Juicy Cerebellum for that amusing quote). This action on their part against teenage webmasters directly violates this principle by stifling the creativity and imagination of children and teenagers worldwide. I guess that this just goes to show that the corporate world really doesn't have any morals at all.
Perhaps I should end with a hopeful message for the fans and a warning for TW. Large corporations have been brought to their knees by the public before. TSR (the company that owns Dungeons and Dragons) attempted a similar purge and the fans reacted by staying away in droves. They didn't buy any of the games, books or other merchandise relating to TSR and the company almost went bankrupt before being bought out by Wizards of the Coast who have since adopted a much more lenient approach and as a result TSR is once again making a profit. Another example is Viacom, the owners of Paramount and the Star Trek franchise. They tried a similar technique and now, if it weren't for the revenue produced by the Trek films, Star Trek would be making a loss. So remember that the fans do have power. We can make a difference.
– November 2005
Update: Since the above was written, TW have backed down, apologised and withdrawn the threat of legal action against Claire Field and the others. This just goes to show that the people do have the power to make even a corporation such as TW run with its tail between its metaphorical legs.
As promised above, here are some Harry Potter websites that outstrip the official site by miles, in terms of content, if not style.
HarryPotterGuide.co.uk is Claire Field's site as mentioned in the article above. This has tonnes of information on all the characters, places and spells of the wizarding world as well as a Harry Potter quiz and survey.
The Daily Prophet is the foremost wizarding newspaper. This is an excellent site, incorporating all the sections that you would expect from a newspaper and is also the home of Defence Against the Dark Arts.