Harry Potter and the IP Bonanza

Author:Elizabeth March
Position:WIPO Magazine Editorial Staff, Communications and Public Outreach Division

From rights to riches. Defence against the dark arts. Parody and plagiarism. Muggle Magic in the PCT?.


As this edition of the WIPO Magazine began to take shape, Harry Potter fever was sweeping the planet with the publication of the seventh and final book in the wildly popular adventures of the eponymous boy wizard. As midnight struck on the July 21st release date for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, throngs of black-cloaked figures waited impatiently outside bookshops from London to Hong Kong. The fate of young Harry, with whom countless children have grown up since his first appearance nine years ago, had been kept a tightly guarded secret by author J.K. Rowling and her publishers. The suspense was spellbinding.

From rights to riches

The success of her creative works has brought J.K. Rowling enough wealth to pack the vaults of Gringotts Bank. It has, moreover, created huge revenues for license and rights holders throughout the copyright-based industries. The figures are dizzying:

The first six books sold over 325 million copies worldwide. The seventh made publishing history in the U.K., selling over 2.6 million copies within the first 24 hours for publisher Bloomsbury. First day sales in the U.S. topped 8.3 million. According to U.S. publisher Scholastic, during a Harry Potter release year, sales of the book account for 8 percent of the company's revenue. The translations in over 65 languages include Icelandic, Swahili, Serbian and ancient Greek.

Five Hollywood film adaptations of the books have earned some US$4 billion in ticket sales for Warner Bros., who hold the film rights, and have shot a new generation of young actors to fame. The first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (or Sorcerer's Stone in the U.S.), ranked fourth on the worldwide list of all-time highest grossing films. When the ABC television network broadcast Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in April this year, it still netted approximately 4.2 million U.S. viewers. The haunting music soundtracks from the first four movies, composed by John Williams, sold over 1.1 million copies in the U.S.

Warner Bros. also own the to the Harry Potter trademarks, including characters, themes and other elements. The company divided the rights among its licensees for use on some 400 different products, so mutually reinforcing the brand: Toymakers Hasbro, for example, are licensed to distribute Harry Potter sweets - such as Cockroach Clusters, Chocolate...

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