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Warner Bros is cracking down on unofficial Harry Potter festivals. Fans say, 'Dementor, much?'

That's one way to kill the magic

Ujjainee Roy @UjjaineeRoy 19 June 2018, 2:01 PM
The move against unauthorised festivals is also a hit against the fandom

The move against unauthorised festivals is also a hit against the fandom Image: Getty

In a very Professor Umbridge-like move, Warner Bros is killing the magic for unofficial Harry Potter festivals.  

The entertainment studio, which is the global distributor of the Harry Potter franchise, is cracking down on local Harry Potter fan festivals and branding them as "unauthorised commercial activity."

Festivals which have not been sanctioned by the studio are now prohibited from using any "names, places, or objects" associated with the Potter franchise.

For instance, one of the biggest Harry Potter festivals in the US, conducted by director Scott Cramer which attracted 50,000 people and around 145 vendors over a period of three days last year, has had to go through some rigorous changes.

Known as the Harry Potter Festival USA or the Wisconsin Harry Potter Festival, the fan event which will be held this October, will now be known as 'Warriors and Wizards Festival.'

"They said they were going to start shutting down Harry Potter festivals, and that it was a heads up. Specific images, specific names, we're not allowed to use any of that. Warner Bros. owns all of that," Cramer told TMJ4.com

"Warner Bros is always pleased to learn of the enthusiasm of Harry Potter fans, but we are concerned, and do object, when fan gatherings become a vehicle for unauthorised commercial activity," the company said in an official statement. 

The studio's decision to detach the Potterdom from the fan events just to protect their trademark is being hailed as a blunder, especially since there are several major annual festivals all over the world, which are attended by millions of fans.

"It's almost as if Warner Bros has been taken over by Voldemort, trying to use dark magic to destroy the light of a little town," Sarah Jo Tucker, a 21-year-old junior at Chestnut Hill College, which hosts a Quidditch tournament, told AP.

One of the most well-known Harry Potter festivals is held every year in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. Philip Dawson, Chestnut Hill's business district director, said Warner Bros reached out to his group in May, letting them know new guidelines prohibit festivals' use of any names, places or objects from the series. That ruled out everything from meet-and-greet with Dumbledore and Harry to Defense Against the Dark Arts classes.

"It was very quickly apparent (we) weren't going to be able to hold festivals like years past," he said. The late October festival drew about 45,000 fans last year to the historic neighbourhood's cobblestone streets. This year, they will instead have a "wands and wizards" family night and pub crawl and other magic-themed events — and people can still dress as their favourite characters.

Chestnut Hill isn't the only community to receive cease-and-desist letters from the entertainment company. Festival directors around the country, including in Aurora, Illinois, and Ithaca, New York, were also told the new guidelines would prohibit much of the Potter-themed activities, which are typically free events.

In fact, fans of the Philadelphia festival took to Twitter to try to get JK Rowling to help save the festival. A spokeswoman for the author said she has no comment.

Ithaca's "Wizarding Weekend" grew from a small celebration in an alleyway in 2015 to a full-fledged Potter-fest hosting over 20,000 fans last year, said Darlynne Overbaugh, the festival's director. Warner Bros sent her a letter in February.

She said she understands the company's need to protect the franchise, but she felt like her festival was helping to build it.

"I have a lot of disappointed people because there are certain aspects of the festival I'm no longer able to do," she said, like Sorting Hat demonstrations. Her group is committed to still providing a magical experience, she said, even if it is one-that-shall-not-be-named.

"Magic existed before Harry Potter, and you can't put a trademark on enthusiasm and creativity," she said.

Philadelphia Potter fan Sarah McIntyre thinks it's ridiculous for Warner Bros to target the festivals.

"They are acting like the Dursleys," said the 34-year-old yoga teacher and bookkeeper. She said they should be encouraging communities to bring Harry Potter to life. "Creating interest in the franchise would increase revenue," she said.

Companies are always concerned about protecting their trademarks, said Gregory Mandel, professor of intellectual property law at Temple University. Warner Bros has made a business decision to prevent these festivals from having any apparent association with them, and to prevent any possible profiting off the series, he said.

"Obviously one could argue that is the wrong business decision and that by having these informal pop-up festivals, it makes all the Harry Potter fans more enthusiastic and more likely to go to the movies and theme parks," he said.

Lorrie Kim is a member of the Potterdelphia club and huge Snape fan and said she feels "disappointed and grim" to lose the festival.

"Seeing the throngs of families of all ages enjoying the festival together, all agreeing to suspend their scepticism for the day and believe in magic, is an experience that can't be manufactured," she said.

The festival crackdown is hardly the first time Warner Bros has put the Avada Kedavra on Potter-themed fun. A woman in the UK was sent a cease-and-desist letter over a 2003 Hogwarts-themed dinner party she planned, with a guest list around 30.

And a Los Angeles bookstore called "Whimsic Alley" was sued by the company over its overtly Hogwarts-ian wares, from chocolate frogs to Gryffindor scarves. They settled but the store ended up closing last year. The opening of Wizarding World at Universal Studios Hollywood worked as a killing curse for the mom-and-pop shop.

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