Posts on this blog represent my opinion. It may be my considered opinion on the basis of my formal study of law and technology. But it is not legal advice. It must not be treated as, or acted upon as, legal advice and no liability is accepted for doing so.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Meddle Not in the Affairs of Wizards

As you might notice from the updated profile I am no longer swelling the ranks of the unemployed. (In fact, since for various reasons I wouldn't have qualified for any benefits I never signed on, so strictly speaking never did, but I'm allowed the odd metaphor now and again.) I am now an RA in QMUL's Law Department, working at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies on a project looking at the legal issues relating to cloud computing.

More on that some other time, perhaps, but for now I see that IP is back in the news again with the story of 'Ms Marmite Lover', who is being threatened by Warner Bros for planning to put on a Harry Potter themed dinner. For once we have more than newspaper stories (written, with the best will in the world, by someone who probably doesn't know much about trade marks or copyright*) as Ms M-L has kindly reproduced the cease-and-desist letter in question.

[*I'm not suggesting reporters or staff writers are legally ignorant. However, most are probably hottest on subjects such as defamation and privacy.]

I'm afraid I can see W-B's point. It looks like this is not quite a domestic dinner party, but rather an openly ticketed event, so Ms M-L is arguably using the phrase 'Harry Potter' - a trade mark of Warner Bros - in the course of trade. Now, she understandably claims that from her point of view she is using it purely as a sign of being a fan rather than a suggestion that her food is somehow from, or endorsed by, either Warner Bros or J K Rowling herself. Unfortunately this is a buoy we've all sailed round before during the voyage of Arsenal v Reed, with its ECJ ruling, endorsed by the Court of Appeal, that 'badges of affiliation' can and do infringe trade marks. Having said that, Ms M-L's use seems rather de minimis and there is a risk that Warner Bros' action may be seen as yet another example of Big Business using IP rights to squash what most people would see as harmless fun. As a supporter of and believer in IP I think it needs all the good publicity it can get, but these days it only ever seems to get the other sort no matter how hard the IPO tries to rope in the services of Wallace and Gromit.