Harry Potter takes a TRIP

Impatient for the sixth Harry Potter? Why not try Harry Potter and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Agreement (TRIPS)?

With demand outstripping supply, Muggles around the world have resorted to publishing their own stories about the teenage wizard.

In China, there’s Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon; in Russia, Tanya Grotter and the Magic Double Bass; in Belarus, Porri Gatter and the Stone Philosopher; in India, Harry Potter in Calcutta.

Harry’s creator, JK Rowling, isn’t happy about this. Luckily for her, under the WTO’s TRIPS agreement, original authors ‘enjoy the exclusive right of authorizing adaptations, arrangements and other alterations of their works’. Using domestic legislation, Rowling is waving a wand over Potter clones in WTO countries; they’re disappearing.

But the WTO exists to increase trade, points out Tim Wu. Before the courts intervened, local authors were creating made-to-measure Potter stories. They were meeting needs which Rowling couldn’t supply. The adaptations didn’t dissuade Rowling from writing new Harry Potter stories. By highlighting the popularity of the Potter brand, they encouraged aspiring writers to enter the market. Now, with the adaptations nixed, overall trade in Potter has gone down.

You could say that Burger King and Wendy’s stole the idea of a fun, plastic burger joint from McDonald’s and are unfairly profiting from their evil deed. But when it comes to burger joints, we accept that the consequence of a competitive market is less profit for the first mover (McDonald’s). Copyright should be no different. – Tim Wu, Slate