Melbourne bar ordered to take down Harry Potter decorations after legal threat from Warner Bros

The Imperial

The Imperial's Harry Potter fit-out. Source: Instagram.

A popular Melbourne pub has been swept into a legal battle with film and TV giant Warner Bros after it reportedly used a number of Harry Potter-related assets without permission.

The Imperial Hotel in Melbourne’s CBD had attempted to capitalise on its proximity to the Princess Theatre, where play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently showing, by turning its rooftop into a Potter-themed wonderland called ‘Vertic Alley’.

A play on the series’ famous Diagon Alley, the rooftop contained a number of Potter references, including a wand shop, a joke shop, the ‘Wizpac’ wizarding bank, and a staircase decorated with the phrase: “I solemnly swear I am up to no good”.

The bar also offered Potter-related menu items, including ‘Buttah Beer’ and ‘Harry’s Platter’.

Some of the decorations on the rooftop. Source: Supplied.

However, The Age reports despite the bar not explicitly infringing on any Harry Potter trademarks, Warner Bros issued it with a cease and desist, saying the bar had not received permission to use its intellectual property.

“Anything that is themed Harry Potter must have a legal contract with Warner Bros to ensure that Harry Potter intellectual property is managed correctly, and all above board,” Warner Bros Australia senior marketing manager Stephanie Demajo told The Age.

“They went all themselves, without contacting Warner Bros in advance.”

The bar has reportedly closed the rooftop, telling customers they are preparing it for winter, however in an email to staff, the bar’s management told staff they were in a “wrestling match” with Warner Bros, reports The Age.

SmartCompany contacted The Melbourne Venue Co, which owns The Imperial and a number of other venues across the city, but did not receive a response prior to publication.

On the company’s website, it issues a disclaimer stating it has “no association or affiliation with the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play, the Harry Potter novels, movies and related intellectual property or their respective rights holders”.

Warner Bros told SmartCompany it had no comment on the situation, but Demajo told The Age the company stepped in because the fit-out was “clearly a knock-off from Diagon Alley” and the venue was making money from it.

“If they had come to Warner Bros originally and worked out a deal, it may have been able to go ahead,” she told The Age.

“A pointless and costly exercise”

Speaking to SmartCompany, director of Hitch Advisory and intellectual property law expert Olivia Hitchens said the installation was “clearly intended” to be Harry Potter themed, and says it would have needed to be toned down significantly if it wanted to avoid stepping on toes.

“I think the only way they would have been able to get away with it is with a more general wizard-y theme, but they knew what they were doing. It was a deliberate usage of Harry Potter to derive a commercial benefit,” she says.

“They probably knew this was going to happen. They were there for a good time, not a long time.”

Hitchens believes it’s unlikely Warner Bros will drop the case, even if the bar changes the fit-out.

“It’s gotten a lot of media attention, so I can’t see them letting it go myself. Warner Bros is still making a lot of money out of Harry Potter, and they wouldn’t want this happening if they brought the stage show to Perth, or anywhere else,” she says.

“If Warner Bros seeks a cut of the profits made by the Imperial then this would have been a pointless and costly exercise.”

NOW READ: “Don’t step on any toes”: Three tips for protecting your business against legal challenges

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