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‘Harry Potter’ class lands UNH in hot water with Warner Bros.

Union Leader Correspondent

November 05. 2013 5:43PM

DURHAM — An online summer literature course offered by the University of New Hampshire for young readers gained the attention of Warner Bros., but not in an entirely positive way.

In September, the company sent a cease and desist letter to the university requesting that it stop using trademarks Warner Bros. felt were infringing upon the company’s rights.

This included the names of some of the courses offered that echoed those Harry Potter would have taken in the immensely popular book and movie series.

Michelle Gluck, special counsel for the University System of New Hampshire, said the two sides were able to reach a resolution without any formal proceedings, and the university is planning to offer the course again this summer.

The university agreed to make some changes without admitting any wrongdoing, and Warner Bros. thanked them, Gluck said.

“We do not believe there will be any further interaction with Warner Bros. over the course,” Gluck said.

The course was developed by UNH English and education professor James Krasner, an avid “Harry Potter” fan who realized what a good tool the books would be to teach middle school readers grammar and literature in a fun and engaging way.

Gluck said it is permissible to use copy written materials for classroom instruction.

“Otherwise you would never be able to teach a living author,” Gluck said.

But Warner Bros. holds most of the rights to the trademarks associated with Harry Potter, including things that Gluck said the university did not feel were unique to the book, including titling one class “Potions.”

“Warner Bros. is very protective of their trademarks because they are very lucrative,” Gluck said.

To use the “Harry Potter” trademarks or properties for any kind of entertainment purpose or for goods to be sold a license is required.

“But that is not what UNH was doing,” Gluck said.

She said Warner Bros. expressed concern that the design of the courses could create confusion, which is what the trademark law was designed to prevent.

“They thought the consumer could confuse the course with something being offered by Warner Bros. … that is not our position,” Gluck said.

But in a gesture of good faith, UNH went over the course and made some changes that made Warner Bros. feel more comfortable.

Gluck said it is unusual for the university to receive such an order.

“Most of the things that adult students study don’t have the same cache as children’s literature,” Gluck said.

But this kind of thing does happen from time to time.

“Warner Bros. has a reputation of being very active in trying to protect the “Harry Potter” trademarks to the point of shutting down things that really don’t reflect on it all, but that is the path they have chosen to take,” Gluck said.

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