Harry Potter and the Order of Silence

As the eve of the Harry Potter phenomenon draws closer to its next crescendo, a battle of civil and journalistic rights is being fought, and the casualties are beginning to pile up.  Behind the magic and the glamour, the fight behind the scenes grows uglier with each passing minute, as lawyers and ammo are sent storming across the phone lines and the Internet.

In this hard-nosed editorial written by West Coast Editor T.K. Davs himself, an uncompromising look is given to the war of words and lawsuits, as an empire rages forth to crush anything that stands in its way, at any and all costs.

The following is an editorial written by FilmJerk West Coast Editor T.K. Davs. It does not reflect the opinions of FilmJerk.com or any of its (other) staff members, officers, executives, employees, affiliates, successors, assigns, licensees, referring website or publications, etc. etc. If you have a legal problem with what follows, send your best stuff to Dark Savant.

I apologize for that disclaimer; I believe such a measure is a FilmJerk.com first, as we are used to speaking (or writing) our mind without it being questioned. As you are about to find out, things have grown very different over the past few days.

At the time of this writing, we are less than two days away from the official release of Book 5 in the Harry Potter saga, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”, a book estimated to shatter all known publishing records and some that haven’t even been imagined yet. With over 1 million pre-orders confirmed and a 1st edition run exceeding 8 million, we are talking about a component worth billions of dollars in revenue in a franchise worth that many times over. There are undoubtedly many millions eagerly anticipating the book’s release.

However, in the midst of the mania, there is a civil (rights) war being fought outside the lines. You see, Harry Potter is protected by more than his creator and the great Albus Dumbledore, and is apparently in grave danger on a scale more formidable than anything Lord Voldemort could muster.

One side of the war is begin fought by the collective alliance I refer to only as the “JKR Machine”. It is comprised of the Harry Potter publishers, including Bloomsbury (UK), Scholastic (US), and Raincoast (Canada). It is comprised of the corporate machine known as AOL-Time-Warner(Bros.), the owners of the film franchising. I am equally confident that a merchandiser or two lurks in there somewhere as well. The other side of the war features the media, both the so-called professional press” and the smaller Internet media, such as this site. This is the side that is in the midst of getting annihilated.

What’s the war aboutr Well, I think that may be the question that is oft asked and never quite answered. In this case, I believe Joanne Rowling, aka “JKR”, the distinguished and talented author of the Harry Potter novels, has managed to do the unimaginable: she has managed, behind an army of lawyers and henchmen, to place a total blackout and embargo upon information. Under the looming threat of enormous legal sanctions, any review, article, or other printing conceivable, which reveals *any* relevant plot details about the new book, is immediately silenced.

In the industry, we call these plot details “spoilers”. I’m sure you can figure out exactly what that entails. Many fans of film, television, books, and other forms of mass entertainment, have absolutely no wish to see such information revealed beforehand. However, this is a new day and age where information flows freely, and like a controversial radio show, it is ultimately the decision of the information’s recipient whether to continue hearing or reading something that they do not wish to. It is the moral right and decision of journalists to choose to publish this information, regardless of the ethical debate involved. To summarize, that means I have the right to tell you details on a film or book, in my own words, and you have the right to decide whether you want to read it. Do believe me when I tell you that the number of people who actively seek such knowledge is quite abundant.

For those of you not following the trail of bodies, here is a short recap of what’s happening. Several smaller “fansites”, given leaked information by employees of distributors (the places that sell such books), have posted various reviews and plot information pertaining to Book 5. Within hours, the aforementioned legal machine has managed to silence and/or remove every single one of these published leaks. In the meanwhile, several larger publications, such as the New York Daily News, went ahead and printed some of the same privileged information, only to find the same result waiting for them. In the case of the Daily News, which has assets to attack, a lawsuit was brought against them earlier this evening, reported seeking “tens of millions of dollars” in damages.

Below are two Reuters/AP articles, courtesy of Yahoo! News and Bloomberg respectively, detailing the lawsuit that the JKR Machine is bringing against the NY Daily News…

http://biz.yahoo.com/rc/030618/media_scholastic_1.html (site closed)
http://quote.bloomberg.com/apps/newsrpid=10000103&sid=aCQC1fTz2nvs&refer=us (site closed)

…for reporting this NY Daily News story (Potter fans beware… major spoilers follow) …

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/story/93454p-84823c.html

…based on this UK injuction…

http://biz.yahoo.com/prnews/030508/nyth154_1.htmlrh=1 (site closed)

The New York Daily News is hardly the first to publish such spoilers, regarding Harry Potter or any other work. I mention them because the lawsuit is now public information. In the silent corners of the media world, I have recently spoken with editors of three other major news publications, all of whom were threatened and forced to remove Potter-related articles within the past 24 hours. Other sites have abstained from such actions, and that too is their moral right.

To my readers, I say this. If you have any information regarding the new Harry Potter book, I will hear you out and do my very best to publish it in my own words, as is my legal right. I cannot guarantee that I will be immune to the pressures I am describing in this editorial; I can, however, promise I will try. In a moment of honesty, I actually have little wish to take such action, but I offer to try now as a show of defiance.

To Ms. Rowling, I completely sympathize with your desires to protect your artistic creations and your audiences from information presented in a manner outside of your control. I understand what kind of money and trust is involved. However, this is not music or software pirating, where an entire work is stolen without payment, and delivered in a manner sometimes inconsistent with the intentions of the manufacturers. What you and the companies behind you don’t realize is that you are now treading on my rights, my works, my dreams… and like you fight to protect your interests, so shall I fight to protect mine.

I will not, under any circumstances, go into the legal specifics of posting spoiler reviews. I will state only this: when done correctly and professionally, there are no legal grounds to stand upon. For every injunction and “intellectual property” claim you can throw at me, I can throw two back. For every source you question and every person you claim signed a Non-Disclosure form of some kind, I can find a loophole. For every civil damage that you might claim, I will question why a billion-dollar force is so paranoid about stamping out a little guy like me. How can one voice bring down the Harry Potter empirer Regardless of where the law falls, you are clearly aware of how to use the law to threaten, bear pressure, and silence those who just seek to share. And that, too, is legal… just like my right to describe your work in my own words.

What no one seems to understand is that if this manner of action is successful — whether by means of threat or by means of legal victory in damages, injunctions, or otherwise — it will crush the tenet of free speech, and seriously hamper the media’s rights to report on works of intellectual property. Can you imagine a world without reviews, or perhaps a world where the law restricts such reviews to hollow, unjustified opinions and speculationr Don’t answer those questions too quickly, because regardless of whether you approve of such media, I sincerely doubt you will appreciate having the decision made from you, the choice removed because of corporate greed.

To date, no other form of media entertainment — film, music, television, or otherwise — has ever attempted such an aggressive and vicious legal movement against the mere opinions and details of its content. I find it extremely disheartening and sad, at a moment when the world is poised for a breakthrough of financial and creative greatness, that this is the moment wherein the darkness falls. In your language, Ms. Rowling, it is truly ironic that a Gryffindor now seeks refuge behind an army of Slytherins.

-T.K. Davs

Copyright 2003, T.K. Davs. All rights reserved.

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