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Jewish World Review March 5, 2001 / 10 Adar, 5761

Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom
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Consumer Reports

Young fans' web sites become a Big Harry deal -- SOMETIMES in fairy tales, when the wicked witch wants to be really wicked, she makes her victim huge, monstrously big, banging into everything.

Could such dark forces be at work on everyone's favorite mini-wizard, Harry Potter?

We already know that Potter, the boy hero created by author J.K. Rowling, is big, literarily speaking. Counting all the Harry books sold would be only slightly less impossible than finding a child who hasn't read one.

But until now, the grand scale has been grand because it was all about books. We are proud of books. We are proud when our kids read them. Growth on that scale has been a good thing, right?

But no good thing stays good for long once Hollywood gets involved. The film industry opens its suitcases of money, buys a story, then acts as if it owns the idea, the outline, the words, even the shadow.

So it was that in the last few months, children around the world began getting threatening letters from Warner Bros., the company that purchased the film and merchandising rights to Harry Potter.

The letters concerned Harry-oriented Web sites. Many were nothing more than fan sites: preteens and teenagers posting their favorite stories, their predictions for future Potter stories - even, ironically, news about the upcoming movie.

One such site was constructed by a 15-year-old girl in Singapore. Two others by a 15-year-old girl and a 13-year-old boy in England.

They all got similar letters, which can be summed up this way: Your Web site name? We own it. Give it to us, or we will come after you with lawyers.

Will we be sued for
running this picture?

Welcome to Adultville, kids.

Never mind that Warner Bros. will reap massive profits on the film when it comes out this fall.

And never mind that Warner will see a hailstorm of profit from every imaginable type of merchandise: dolls, board games, costumes, magic potion kits, even plastic broomsticks.

So now they want all the Web sites in the world that could possibly be about Harry Potter. They own his shadow, after all. And previously innocent teens get threatening letters from lawyers demanding the return of Web site names such as Harry Potter Guide and Harry Potter Network (which has since taken the words "Harry Potter" out of its web address) and HogwartsOnline.

Here is part of that Warner Bros. letter: "(We) are concerned that your domain name registration is likely to cause consumer confusion and dilution of the intellectual property rights."

Translation: "We don't want consumers confused by anything unless it's by our products. And you don't get to dilute Harry Potter - only we get to dilute Harry Potter!"

Some children were so shaken by these legal threats that their parents jumped to their defense. A young woman from Virginia and another from London have teamed up to boycott Harry Potter merchandise. They organized Potter War.

Potter War?

"We are urging all Harry Potter fans to spend their money elsewhere. "

Meanwhile, Rowling, the author, has been silent. That's not smart, since she is listed in the letter as a threatening force. Which is it, J.K? For kids, or for their pocketbooks?

Ah well. Such is the devil's dance in Hollywood. Warner Bros. claims it didn't mean to harass anyone with the letter - but it didn't take back its request.

And kids around the globe are getting a new education, not about spells and potions, but about greed.

Poor Harry. Has he fallen under a witch's curse, grown too big for his own good, become a monster that would crush the small, innocent masses that made him a superstar?

Holy Toledo!

No wait. That's from "Batman and Robin." I'm not allowed to use that, either.

Comment on JWR contributor Mitch Albom's column by clicking here. You may purchase his runaway bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie, by clicking here.


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