Friday, 23 October 2009

Generic Wizard night

I was just about to post up the menu for my Harry Potter nights at The Underground Restaurant which will take place, appropriately, on Halloween when I received the following letter from Warner brothers.
    Dear Ms Marmite Lover,
    I have been asked to write to you by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Warner Bros. Entertainment UK(together, "Warner").
    We notice that you're planning to hold a "Harry Potter Night at the Underground Restaurant" on 30th - 31st October 2009 with a Harry Potter style menu and butterbeer (the "Harry Potter Nights") and that tickets are being sold for the Harry Potter Nights on While we are delighted that you are such a fan of the Harry Potter series, unfortunately your proposed use of the Harry Potter Properties (as we explain below) without our consent would amount to an infringement of Warner's rights.
    As you may know, Warner owns the trade mark and owns and/or controls the copyrights in and to the Harry Potter series of films based on J.K. Rowling's internationally acclaimed children's novels. Warner also owns the associated merchandising rights and has licensed to others the right to use various aspects of the Harry Potter property including the Harry Potter name, stylised logo, the names of the characters, themes, incidents and other associated indicia from the series of Harry Potter books and films (collectively, the "Harry Potter Properties") in respect of a wide variety of goods and services. In view of Warner’s ownership of these rights, no one may copy, license, exhibit, reproduce or otherwise trade on the Harry Potter Properties without the prior authorization and consent of Warner.
    We would therefore ask that you refrain from holding and/or offering for sale any tickets to the Harry Potter Nights and confirm to me by return email that the Harry Potter Nights will not go ahead as planned. Warner does not, of course, object to you holding a generic wizard/Halloween night at the Underground Restaurant.
    As I am sure you can appreciate, this email is not a complete statement of Warner's rights, all of which are expressly reserved.
    I look forward to hearing from you and please do feel free to call should you have any questions.
    Kind regards,
    Legal and Business Affairs - Europe
    Warner Bros. Entertainment Europe
    Warner House
    98 Theobald's Road, London, WC1X 8WB  
I've written back, saying that I've changed the title of the event to Generic Wizard night. But I added that J.K. Rowling herself, having at one time been a struggling single parent, and having donated to the National Council of One Parent Families, would probably approve of a single mother being entrepeneurial and creative.

I announced it on Twitter and there were plenty of jokes:

MsMarmitelover: Just got letter from Warner bros saying can't call my halloween dinners Harry Potter nights but Generic wizard nights

MsMarmitelover:Do I have to change the names of all the foods Icantbelieveitsnotbutterbeer?

Craftilicious @MsMarmitelover if the foods are trademarked, then probably yes, but I doubt it, it will just be the name harry potter that is tm'd

StefanChomka @MsMarmitelover 'Do I have to change the name of Icantbelieveitsnotbutterbeer?' Hell yes, or expect a Unilever/WarnerBros tag-team lawsuit

headtofoot @MsMarmitelover Why not just call it Parry Hotter nights, serve hint mumbugs,semon lherbets just turn it round a bit

katethebake @MsMarmitelover can you call them HARRY POTTER fan NIGHT instead? j write "fan" v. small. they can't knock their fans surely?!

MsMarmitelover Utterlybutterlybeer? Can I use the names lemon sherbets and mint humbugs please Warner bros? Not cauldron cakes, but lecreusetcakes

josordoni @MsMarmitelover and LargePot Cakes

MsMarmitelover @josordoni lol that makes it sound very interesting! Le creuset cakes is the yuppie version

and on Facebook I got these replies:

J:So even if you bought WB merchandise to decorate your room, it can't be referred-to by the movie's title? Beyond imagination. But then, that's WB for you.

Nicola Swift : Harry Notter!

Myself, my daughter (an HP obsessive) and food writer Catherine Phipps (qualification: used to moderate a HP forum) have been researching and developing the menu based, as accurately as possible, on food described in the books.The evening, as it stood, consisted of:

Journey through Diagon Alley...Give the password to the Fat Lady...

On Saturday night Professor Trelawney will be reading fortunes in the shrieking shed at the bottom of the garden, cross her palm with silver...

Sorting Hat to determine which house table you will sit at:


Dumbledore's favourite sweets, lemon sherbets and mint humbugs will be scattered on the tables.

To start we will have pumpkin soup accompanied by Witches hat pumpkin pasties.

It was difficult to think of main dishes that are not meat based for Harry Potter characters seem to be mostly carnivore. The only fish mentioned are pickled eels. They do eat Shepherd's pie and therefore I thought that Fish pie would be the most likely fishy equivalent. Also it contains mashed potatoes, which, along with roast potatoes, is always on the table at meals.
The main keynote is abundance; they can eat whatever they want, pluck it out of thin air.
Harry Potter characters do not eat complex exotic food. The dishes are recognisably English for the most part except a fish bouillabaise which the French ate during the international Quidditch tournament.
Minted peas and roast potatoes will accompany the fish pie.

For dessert...

Fizzpop chocolate frogs, cauldron cakes

Many Potter foods are magical, transformative. How can I reproduce that? I thought of the miracle berry, a fruit from Africa that transforms sour foods into sweet foods.
I will serve miraculin powder, an extract from the miracle berry. Guests will pour the contents of the sachets into the mouth, savouring the taste.
Accompanied by a tiny sugarless tarte au citron which will taste miraculously sweet.

Drinks available:

Goblet of fire: Schnapps with spun sugar balls £5 a glass
Butterbeer £4 a glass
Pumpkin juice £3 a glass
Dandelion wine £4 a glass

Price: £25, £20 for unemployed
Tips will be appreciated, but more than a quidditch please...

Update: Butterbeer is an old English recipe, Pumpkin pasties is a Caribbean recipe, chocolate frogs were popular before the book.
Update: The BBC, The Guardian, The Evening Standard, The Telegraph, The Observer have all written stories about this. I've even been interviewed on Australian radio where they've never heard of home restaurants!
I'm also getting to know a lot more about the world of Harry Potter fans. The British one's help 'translate' the books for the Americans, explaining certain terms and the grammar'Brit picking' they call it. There are Harry Potter conferences, Harry Potter re-enacted trials, there was even an academic paper explaining why Harry Potter is "a good Jewish boy".

Update: Some very interesting comments on this link. Such as ...

Definition Of Hollywood Lawyers:
“Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself…soul-less and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

63 Oct 26, 2009 at 18:45 by Noneya Bidness
When Barnes and Nobles was selling one of the Harry Potter books they were informed that their pre-release parties could not use the name Harry Potter or images of Harry Potter.
Publicity for the very books they wanted to sell was considered copyright infringement.
98 Oct 27, 2009 at 00:26 by Mitch
The problem for companies like Warner is that if they don’t “defend their copyright” other companies can make the claim that it has become de facto “public domain.” Thus, in order to prevent some low down snake from stealing your legitimate copyright, you have to be a low down snake yourself and stomp on little people who aren’t really doing you any damage.
What they really should do is offer a “fair use” license which acknowledges the copyright. Then everyone could be kept happy and legal, but they are too busy hissing at everyone in their best snakish manner to “defend their copyright.”
104 Oct 27, 2009 at 01:32 by Iain
There is a much better solution where everybody wins. Warner can give Ms Marmite Lover a license for a token sum ($1, for example), in exchange for her mentioning the generosity of Warner at the party or even in the press.
Ms Marmite Lover gets to have her harry potter party. Warner exercise their rights and get good publicity.
106 Oct 27, 2009 at 01:48 by Carface
She should have just ignored the letter, as it was addressed to someone who does not legally exist.
139 Oct 28, 2009 at 23:46 by Ninja
That’s real life for you. Those places are awesome, just like Ms Marmite’s initiative.
I have to agree WB is completely right there, however there are other ways to deal with it where every1 gets happy. Don’t sue, don’t threaten, tell her about the rights and add that you encourage such parties but request the permission to offer or make HP products available at the place – HP fans will probably end buying something and everybody gets money, including the money hungry WB.
Reminds me of the UK industry telling that piracy is killing the creative process or something like. Now, would that be a case where the victim becomes the killer?
WB, learn from this. Work with your costumers, not against them.


  1. Warner Brothers are a business; they own the rights, not J.K Rowling so I don't think that would hold much stead with them.

    You were going to be making money from the evening using Warner's copyrights and trademarks, so I'm not at all surprised they asked you to change it.

  2. This has to be the best idea yet! If only I didn't have 4 parties to cook for that evening.....

    Will be the easiest cooking you've ever done though - a quick swish of the wand and it will appear. No need for waiting staff either - you could just levitate the food to the tables.

  3. Be very careful, they will be closely monitoring what you are saying/doing. This is a commercial enterprise, and they will have no compunction in issuing injunctions/claims for royalties due if you continue.

    You are still using a LOT of copyrighted names on the website, you really need to go through it with a fine tooth comb and remove/change all that you even vaguely think they might object to, or you may find yourself with a huge bill at the end of it.

  4. Warner may own the rights but seriously, how lame can they get?

    Being dyslexic I like the idea of just scrambling all the words and keeping the original title but that's intellectual property rights law for you - big corporations sticking it - as Jack Black would say - to the man

    Oh crap, am I going to get sued by Jack Black's people?! Aargh...the absurdity of IP rights...

  5. What a few weeks you seem to be having. And now this. Never a dull moment when you're around! Be careful.

  6. I agree that it is a shame - if you were doing this and not charging I'm thinking that it would probably be okay but having worked with licences in publishing - Bob the Builder, Pooh, Mr Men, Tin-tin etc I know how it can have to bid for the licence and then, if you get it, you obviously pay the licensor a profit...Big business...

  7. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying Warner are right by any means.. but I would hate you to end up with a massive law case to fight or a bill to pay :((

  8. So what about:

    Dye Gone Alley
    Somewhat Plump Lady
    Royal Mail Strike Action Hat
    Dairy Drinkies
    Dumb Bell Dore
    Lemon Sherbets and Humbugs are generic sweeties so they should be ok...

    Fizzy Pop Frogs
    Goblet of Hot Stuff

    How do they sound??? LOL

  9. As I don't have any money, and am not making any money (have you seen the price of miraculin, dry ice, etc etc) from this evening, then there's nothing to sue for...
    The money is merely a contribution to the ingredients...
    It's a fan night, very respectful, actually attempting to make the dishes, interpret those in the book. This has been done before.
    and so on...
    Are all of these people being prevented from using the name?
    It's not like I'm running a permnament Harry Potter restaurant, it's a one off.

  10. Wish I could come! Actually, I will be in Paris so I'm not too upset about it.

    And good news - my parents are NOT coming for Christmas so I will be able to bring my brother and his girlfriend to yours!

  11. It's Trademark law isn't it. Unless they defend absolutely every use, then the trademark lapses.

    Dosn't make them any less of a bunch of idiots.

  12. Wow, how typical of big industry. Very annoying and frustrating. It will be interesting to see their next moves now that there has been some media coverage.

    Sounds like it will still be a brilliant night. Have fun!

  13. You have my deepest sympathy. I wrote about this on my Harry Potter blog, where I'm sure my friends will have much to say about it. I will also link back to your blog now that I've found it.
    WB does not own Halloween, although they seem to throw lawsuits around this time of year. They did this same stuff to libraries and bookstores who had parties before HBP and Deathly Hallows came out. Also, one of the articles mentioned Dandelion Wine, and that is not even mentioned in the HP books as far as I recall. So you should go ahead and serve it. It's the name of the book by Ray Bradbury anyway!

  14. I do hope the Beeb picking up on this doesn't spur Warner Bros on to send more nastygrams. More power to your pointed elbow - hope the publicity brings you lots of business.

  15. and then they wonder why people pirate their products. Heavy-handedness all round, the less people purchase their products the quicker they might realise that they DEPEND on customers... Ridiculous...

  16. '... would probably approve of a single mother being entrepeneurial and creative.'

    True; but is it really creative to try to ride on the back of someone else's books? Surely 'creative' would be coming up with a totally novel theme?

  17. Warner Brothers are absolutely right to take action. If they don't defend their trademark, it lapses, and yet somehow everyone always takes the side of the 'poor small business' being harassed by the big corporation. A trademark is their property, you tried to use their property without permission, and they stopped you. What's to complain about?

  18. I love generic wizards - so much more fun than overexposed HP!

  19. "J.K. Rowling herself, having at one time been a struggling single parent, and having donated to the National Council of One Parent Families, would probably approve of a single mother being entrepeneurial and creative.

    "Creativity" is not stealing other people's ideas for use in your own business.

    No offense to you, but Warner was in the right here. You're running a business, you're selling tickets... In such a commercial operation, you don't have the right to use other people's works without permission.

    Clever idea, but next time, come up with your own ideas. Be original.

  20. You just made it onto the BBC newspage!

  21. Otto: when I say creative I'm talking about all of my menus, and how my restaurant is set up etc.
    This is just a one off menu...and I think my take on it is creative.
    God I'm amazed at the sourpusses there are on the internet...

  22. (Greetings from TorrentFreak)

  23. Why not try and 'Hogwarts (and st. custards) Halloween party' - Hogwarts was the opponent school on many of Molesworth's sports days.

  24. I wouldnt be suprised, these sort of people are relentless and out of touch, the sort of people who stop charity shops from having a radio on because the public can hear it or stop schools from singing christmas carols to the public without paying substational amounts.

    Just make sure that in future if you have a birthday event for someone you dont sing happy birthday because warner bros own that too

  25. One off or not, you're making money from the Harry Potter trademark. People can talk about how it's typical of the big corporations, but trademark law is there for a reason.

    Think of the possible backlash they/JK would recieve from headlines such as "Harry Potter night gives fans food poisoning" or "Freak accident at Harry Potter Halloween sees dozens injured"

    Otto has it bang on correct, and shame on the BBC for making you appear to be the victim

  26. Well, think of the publicity - I never heard of you until I read you on the BBC website - now I am going to email a group of friends to see if they are interested in attending one of your dinners!

  27. So what percentage of the anonymous posters are actually working for Warner Brothers?

    they do seem to be almost universally following the company line, and they must have read this place to know about the evening.

  28. Instead of charging, have a 'suggested donation' jar. If you host the parties regularly, people will be ready to pay and they will understand. They can't stop donations, can they?

  29. I dont `work for warner brothers' but I am an author and musician and while I cant speak for ms Rowling I for one would be very annoyed if anyone tried to run a business (even a one-off night) off the strength of one of my properties without first seeking my permission and paying the required royalty. (Id certainly grant the permission if asked though!)

    As creative as your idea and approach might be, Ms Lover, you still have to admit that the night if run as planned (without the beneift of all this free advertsing the BBC has given you) wouldn't have gone as well without the `harry potter' theme as with. That's why you chose the theme isn't it? To help promote the night?

    Well, there you go your `creative enterprise' was inherently about `profiting' (however small) from someone elses work without asking permission.

    Surely you can see why copyright law exists? And why it has to exisit in a stringent all-or nothing-form? (otherwise the legal costs and waste of courts time trying to decypher which activities using a trademark without permission were `for little pfoit' `some profit' `lots of profit' would be astronomical! I mean, how many knock off t-shirts would you think someone should be able to print and sell print before it was too many? Should I be fine with it if someone burns copies of my CDs to sell at markets without paying me, given how much it cost me to make the album in the first place?)

    And as for stopping charity shops playing music; you can apply for an excemption from the royalty fee as a charity, but you have to do it in advance (before you start playing music) being a charity is no excuse for stealing. And that's what playing SOMEONE ELSES music without PAYING for it is!

  30. Also, Liz I thought their letter was very polightly written, so its hardly a `nastygram'!

    And anonymous, businesses don't `...wonder why people pirate their products' they know it's because people have an unjustified sense of entitlement that causes them to rationise stealing other peoples property because they dont want to pay for it when stealing a non-pysical object is so easy compared to more conventional methods!

  31. Right.
    Lis, I make people pre- pay for the ingredients because this is not a normal restaurant, I have no walk in traffic and there are always no shows. I don't want to be out of pocket. I can't afford it.
    Census: Why don't you read a bit more? I have lots of themes, lots of nights and they all sell out. I don't need the Harry Potter theme to sell out.
    I chose the theme because my daughter is a fan and it's Halloweeen.
    I didn't even think about the implications to be honest. I didn't give the story to the BBC, the press picked up on the story because it was on my Twitter feed.
    As for profiting and creativity, it's an awful lot of hard work cooking, I've spent weeks literally planning what to cook, ordering the ingredients for this dinner. Have you seen the price?
    Of course I support authorial copyright. As a photographer (originally) I have the same problem. I've changed the name as Warner Bros suggested, I've looked into the dishes and some of them such as butterbeer existed before Harry Potter, so they can't copyright them.
    This is more a tribute to JK Rowlings work, a one off. By your logic, every single child's birthday party using a Potter theme, should be banned.
    School concerts using a Potter theme are banned, I know, I've been told. I think that's taking things a bit far.
    Harry Potter is now part of the culture, part of our children's upbringing. I've spent a good deal of money on the books, toys and films. This is not a great way to thank the fans is it?
    I thought their letter was polite too. But obviously as a blogger I'm not going to ignore this, it's a story!

  32. I'm suprised that you couldn't just use the word "unofficial" to placate WB. They let us do Accio 2005 which used the words "Harry Potter" in the blurb. (NB Catherine and I were on the organising comittee). I don't understand why WB aren't just excited that fans continue to run events like yours to create buzz around their property. Still, you are probably wise to take it all seriously. Hopefuly WB will, over the years, loose their fear of people using the "Harry Potter" name. Afterall fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself ;-)

  33. Hopefully posting twice in a row isn't a sign of madness, but I think I understand WB now. Your's wasn't a 'not for profit' event: the Underground Restaurant nights are your job, so profit's important. We ran Accio as a not-for-profit (any surplus went to charity) which explains why the rules were different.

  34. You've made the Australian papers !,22606,26266712-5006343,00.html

    If nothing else the publicity WB's inflexibiblity and sense-of-humour-failure has generated must make you feel somewhat . . . better.

  35. Thank god you didn't have this hassle with your Elvis night!!! More power to you, hope you have your best night so far. Bet you wish you'd been able to TM "underground restaurant" - you'd soon be rich with the way things are going.

  36. You're an inspiration to everyone!

  37. Do they own the rights to the initials "HP" because that could arguably be any number of name or word combinations. Either way, the fan base is what drives the business of Warner Brothers. Without people like us, those movies would fight hard for even a spot on the box office top 10 list. As a side note, I'm sure this has been considered, but where do the legal rights of Warner Brothers stop and where do those of JK Rowling and Scholastic begin?

    Sadly, they're going to win out and try to squash out the festive fan supported party. You're not the first to attempt recreation of fictional foods, but you're certainly not a fool for being excited about the prospect of actually being about to taste the wonderful world of Harry Potter fair.

    Good Luck! I hope that all turns out swimmingly :)

  38. Your menu for the Harry Potter night is so creative and fun - I love it and having the sorting hat seating everyone is brilliant. So all the more sad that WB are forcing it to be called Generic Wizard night...surely they must have more pressing things to do than chase small businesses for profits they may or may not make? Must be infuriating.

    Last time I made pumpkin soup we served it in individual little pumpkins which was fab...great for haloween.

  39. You're right, I should have read a bit more and I congratulate you on selling out your previous nights using public domain themes not one owned under an exisitng agrement. Its awesome!

    And I can even see why doing a theme because your daughter likes the property was appealing, but you're still running a business, however small, not throwing a party (like all the other Harry Potter themed childrens/adults parties there've been lo these many years! Which no, `my logic' doesn't support stopping. As charities can apply for and not-for-profit activites automatically are exempt from copyright restrictions so long as they give appropriate notice to the licence holders and follow other requirements of the law.)

    School concerts are normally run for profit as well and maybe Warner Brothers will licence productions eventually in the meantime there are plenty of public domain properites schools can use if they so wish, or they can buy the licence to perform other original plays from many of the great children's playwrites of the world! (I quite like the playonwords group in australia)

    Harry Potter may be part of the culture, but that's not the same thing as being in the public domain for legal/business purposes and every creative person should be thankfulo for that! These are the same laws that stop people selling copies of our paintings, books, music (and photos!) without paying us!

    There are provisions in copyright law for that (no character can be owned by a company in perpetuity) but Harry Potter isn't there yet. That the art/character/stories have been more sucessful than most is no reason why it should be treated differently in the eys of the law than any other creative property. That'd be like punishing sucess!

    You've spent a good deal of money on the books and the merchandise because that's what the books and the merchandise were worth. You, and all everyone else (myself included) have already got what we paid for and aren't entitled to anything else. JK and Scholastic and Warner brothers can be greatful and thankful and glad for all the support (and Im sure they are) but they don't owe `the fans' anything more. (Certainly not the chance to turn a profit).

    I understand and respect that you put in a great deal of effort, but so does everyone else who sells pirated unlicenced products! (maybe not with the flair you possess, but that's also why you don't need to use HP, as you correctly pointed out to me!)

    It may seem to you like they should be greatful for the advertising that fans such as yourself provide, but you didn't let them make the choice! You could have applied for a licence and agreed to pay the require royalty, but you didnt. (Maybe they wouldn't have granted you one, maybe that would have been a poor decision on their part, but the choice is there's to make. It's their property. Just like it should be my choice- or my record company's- to put my songs on the internet for free, not somebody elses).

    Katriona MacGregor,

    if people just respected copyright law in the first place they wouldn't have to go `chasing small businesses'. Do you really think a company, no matter how big or small, should have to somehow distinguish between types of infringement on their copyright and spend the time analysing each case to see if they'll allow it to continue or not? Where would they draw the line?

  40. Good luck with 30th-31st - looks like a great menu! I read about this in the Metro - hope the story works in your favour as WB come out looking like right muggles(TM). Sorry to miss this event - I'll be attending the premiere of my 3 minute zombie film - but maybe another year...

  41. Just change the name to 'Hairy Potty' Wizard night :)

  42. Hi - can I just say, as an Australian, that some of us are indeed au fait with home restaurants! 15 years ago in fact, a group of us got it going in Melbourne, dinner parties with a nominal charge, but clearly managed to keep it underground!

  43. Hi - can I just say, as an Australian, that some of us are indeed au fait with home restaurants! 15 years ago in fact, a group of us got it going in Melbourne, dinner parties with a nominal charge, but clearly managed to keep it underground!

  44. I've heard somehwere that the media industry claims that piracy is killing creativity. Now would that be a case where the victim becomes the killer?

    Lame, they should have encouraged you and offered to make HP products easily available to the party invitees. Shows how retarded they are. (Respect for the Down people, they are usually lovely and caring -at least the ones I know - but you got my point).

  45. This is just another example of how you can't be creative with someone else's idea. Rather than just acknowledging you think what they own is great or not, they don't want you using it.

  46. So it WAS a real letter! I was heavily impressed when I opened the Evening Standard this week but concluded that you'd followed the connoisseur's rules of publicity (invent a story, deny it, run the summary of the first two and get three stories out of none)
    But it appears that WB did hear about your themed night, which is, in itself, a publicity coup.

    You're rewriting the book here, K
    Hurrah! I loves it!

  47. Em (generic jelly bean)2 November 2009 at 13:10

    I am sure that all who attended the evening in question would agree: Warner Bros 0, Ms Marmite Lover WON. Fantastic food, a sparkling host and a joyful atmosphere would all have prevailed even if WB hadn't kicked up this silly fuss, but I think the added suggestion of two fingers up at big business only added to the sense of occasion. Long live independence, creativity, fun...and most of all long live delicious food shared amongst new and old friends under whatever auspices.

  48. Yeah again, folks, Warner Brothers have to issue infringment notices, they don't have a choice in the matter (its not a `silly fuss'), it's a requirement of trademark law.

    But yeah, a pretty good sign that they ehard about the event in the 1st place. Im really glad it went well!

  49. I laughed so much at this post. Good heavens! On the up-side they've helped you generate a lot of publicity for your business, I'm sure! Good work. Thanks for a great post... still chuckling to myself (I'm a huge fan of the books too, by the way!)


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