Warner Bros. crackdown puts Dark Mark over Potter festivals

In this Oct. 18, 2014, photo, students from Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia wear costumes to attend an annual festival based on the Harry Potter fantasy series conceived by British author J.K. Rowling, including Dan Lemoine, second from right, dressed as the title character; Mollie Durkin, second from left, dressed as the character Hermione Granger; and John Spiewak Jr., left, dressed as the character Ron Weasley, as they arrive at the festival in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia. In 2018, Warner Bros. notified organizers of Harry Potter fan festivals around the U.S. of new guidelines prohibiting any use of names, places or objects from the fantasy series, in an effort to crack down on unauthorized commercial activity at such events. (David Swanson/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)

PHILADELPHIA– Warner Bros. is cracking down on local Harry Potter fan festivals around the country, saying it’s necessary to halt unauthorized commercial activity. Fans, however, liken the move to Dementors sucking the joy out of homegrown fun, while festival directors say they’ll transfigure the events into generic celebrations of magic.

“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,” said Sarah Jo Tucker, a 21-year-old junior at Chestnut Hill College, which hosts a Quidditch tournament that coincides with the annual suburban Philadelphia festival.

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 neighborhood’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 favorite characters.

“We want to make the best of it,” he said.

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.

It’s all about protecting the trademark.

“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 unauthorized commercial activity,” the company said.

Fans of the Philadelphia festival took to Twitter to try to get J.K. Rowling to help save the festival. A spokeswoman for the author said she has no comment.