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The Entertainment Conglomerate Which Must Not Be Named Cracks Down on Unlicensed Wizard Parties

October 27, 2009

You can go ahead and cancel your Mr. Belvedere-themed shindig at the roller rink next weekend.

Yesterday, UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph ran a story detailing Warner Brothers’ attempts to shut down a Harry Potter-themed dinner party for thirty at an English food critic’s home.

The would-be host, only known by the pseudonym “Ms. Marmite Lover,” runs an “underground restaurant” in West London, which is basically a series of communal dinner parties. When she announced a feast centered around J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard series, however, she brought the lightning upon her own forehead in the form of a letter from the Warner Bros. legal department. Mrs. attorney Amy Witherite explained that while they were pleased that she was a Potter fan, the fact that she was selling tickets on her blog to the event violated copyright laws forbidding her to trade on the Potter name. They did, however, graciously offer her the idea of holding her own “generic wizard/Halloween night” in lieu of an evening of Harry Potter. How very thoughtful.

Marmite explained in an editorial at The Guardian that the only reason she asks for money is to cover the cost of the elaborate expenses incurred by her dinner parties, and assured that with thirty people at £25 a head, she’d be making no profit. She also explained that many of the items on the evening’s menu, while perhaps made famous under specific names in the Potter universe, were actually common items for muggles to eat: “pumpkin pasties” (pastries) aren’t exactly groundbreaking, and Marmite points out that “butterbeer” is actually an old Tudor recipe.

While Warner Brothers without question has a point in their technical persecution of Marmite, the whole fiasco seems a little overcooked. Thirty people having dinner together, and all chipping in for the food, isn’t exactly the same as opening a Harry Potter-themed restaurant. So the question then becomes: we know Warner Brothers was well within their right to send the desist letter to Marmite, but isn’t it a little nitpicky?

Rowling herself has always been a bit of a bulldog when it came to people mimicking her ideas, as a public trial blocking a fan-written book of Potter language was blocked by the author in April 2008, and that probably — legally — should have been. But is it splitting hairs to shut down a group of 25-30 common fans having what basically amounts to a Halloween party? I’d hate to think how many themed days at elementary schools across the nation heinously slipped through the cracks of the Warner Brothers lawhounds. 

Marmite’s dinner party, it would seem, is being made the example for the ongoing “don’t mess with copyrights!” argument. And while TBTS’s esteemed legal colleague and writer T.D. Ruth might weigh in with a much more ins-and-outs argument as to why WB’s argument holds water (and it most definitely does), it does seem that on the surface, it’s a “we’re happy that you love and buy all this merchandise as long as we’ll always get our part of it” type of situation. No one’s arguing the legality of WB’s blockade; it’s the principle of the matter. 

In the meantime, dear readers, we here at TBTS do encourage you to continue the thousands of Brown Tweed Society “reading parties” being held every night around this country and the world. That is, until we get really, really famous. Then it’s hands-off. Because what good is fame, glory and power if you can’t legally halt someone from adoring your product?

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