Warner Bros., the studio behind the Harry Potter film franchise, has filed suit against Whimsic Alley, which has sold both licensed and inspired-by Harry Potter merchandise online and in a Los Angeles storefront for the past decade. The suit alleges trademark infringement and the trial is scheduled for January.
The studio has alleged that Whimsic Alley’s wares and services — including its merchandise, its Great Hall and a forthcoming “wizard cruise” on an ocean liner — infringe on the studio’s trademarks and trade dress by offering products “identical or similar in nature to and directly competitive” with licensed wares. Warner Bros. alleges this is “likely to cause confusion, mistake and deception among prospective purchasers.”
This isn’t the first time Warner Bros. has filed suit against the business or its owner Stanley Goldin. The first suit, filed in 2004, settled out of court:
That case ended in a settlement in which Goldin agreed to stop using or displaying items that featured “Harry Potter” trademarks — or other “confusingly similar” products — in connection with the sale of merchandise, according to the studio’s new lawsuit.
With a history of legal action against the company, it is unknown if the lawsuit will end with another settlement or if it will escalate. While Warner Bros. is clearly much larger and more lucrative than Whimsic Alley and the monetary loss isn’t great in the long run, it is possible that the studio is attempting to set a precedent for others selling Harry Potter inspired merchandise.
“This guy is getting as close to the line as possible and maybe crosses it,” said Allen Grodsky, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property litigation and reviewed the case for The Times. Whimsic Alley “isn’t going to hurt them that much, but if this guy is going to be allowed to do this, then anybody can do it.”
We’ll keep you updated as the story develops; in the meantime, tell us what you think about this and other similar legal actions taken by companies like Warner Bros. and Disney against those who make unofficial merchandise. Was Whimsic Alley targeted because of its size and visibility, or do you think they’ll start cracking down on smaller businesses and people as well? Where is the line between “inspired by” and “copied from”? Should Warner Bros. really get to decide who sells wizards’ robes considering they didn’t invent wizards? Let us know in the comments.