I’ve never been a big fan of Harry Potter. I’ve tried one of the books. I sat through one of the films. I am glad, however, that it’s attracted legions of new readers to books, including my own children, who, along with their peers, are still into the series 21 years after the first novel was released.
I still recall the first time Harry Potter “took off” in Chestnut Hill. I was driving down Germantown Avenue from Northwestern Avenue and saw the sidewalk populated by children and adults in various fantasy costumes parading towards the Chestnut Hill business district.
There’s something about Harry Potter that has connected with a lot of people. I can think of only a few fantastic concoctions that have united more people – Star Trek, Star Wars and maybe the Marvel Comics films. At its peak, the Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Festival attracted nearly 50,000 people. The festival here was covered in national newspapers, magazines and even in the U.K. press.
All of that seems to have been squashed last month with news that lawyers from Warner Bros., the film studio that has made the Harry Potter films and the prequel franchise “Fantastic Beasts,” has set forth a set of guidelines for the festival that would essentially eliminate any and all resemblance to Harry Potter.
In any festival, the Chestnut Hill Business District would be prohibited from using any characters from the books and films, their likeness, and references to anything in the book from “The Dark Arts” to “Butterbeer.”
In other words, no fun will be allowed.
It’s a curious position for the studio to take. It’s not a franchise starved for cash. Two years ago, it sold exclusive rights to NBC Universal to show the films on Comcast for $3.8 billion, a sum that could cover the cost of running Chestnut Hill’s Harry Potter Festival for several millennia.
For those who attend, even at times when crowds and traffic have stressed the small neighborhood streets, it remained a huge advertisement for the books, films and everything having to do with the bespectacled wizard. People traveled from across the country for the chance to experience a day or two of Harry Potter-themed living.
Why Warner Bros. found Chestnut Hill’s tribute to that world objectionable is simply difficult to understand. I sent several requests for comment to media handlers at the studio and have yet to hear word. In numerous stories I read about other threatening letters the studio’s lawyers sent to theme stores, private dinner parties and every other thing that hinted at the Potter franchise, “no comment” appeared to be the rule, so their silence regarding the Hill’s festival is not surprising.
As ridiculous as Warner Bros. stingy take on its intellectual property may be, it’s still a free country, even for (or especially for) corporations, who have every right to enforce those intellectual property rights. Even when it makes them look petty and avaricious.