Posted by: ath1 | October 21, 2007

On Harry Potter

With the increasingly advanced technology, media corporations are able to build and extend media content across different mediums. At the same time, grassroots communities further stretch this practice of transmedia storytelling as they expand, modify, and create their own media experiences and put them together in the context of collective intelligence to create their imaginative fan-world. Jenkins establishes this participatory model through the example of Heather Lawver’s Daily Prophet, an Internet newspaper for Hogwarts School, which shows the power of participatory culture mingling with collective intelligence to produce fan journalism throughout the world.

In Jenkins’s discussion, Harry Potter elevates participatory culture to a higher degree, where fans manage to win over the media studios in their fight for the right of media usage beyond the studio’s control. The fans want to take and use elements of Harry Potter world more than what the studios willing to give. Ultimately, this circumstance leads to the argument over the extent of copyright law—the primary source for the publishers’ and the studio’s anxiety of fans overactive participation.

When Jenkins states, “the Potter wars are at heart of a struggle over what rights we have to read and write about core cultural myths”, he suggests that studios may be overzealous in the quest for its own justice that may subsequently stumble over fans’ interests as well as individual rights. While how far the right of speech can reach and what it can protect is still negotiated among the citizens, the private corporations and the government, there is no copyright law that includes the prohibition of reading and writing. So, as far as the law is concerned, the people who purchase the original copy of the book, they can enjoy the freedom of reading it or reselling it. Hence, “attempts to use copyright law to create a new form of end-user license that establishes restrictions on the permitted uses of a book is at odds with longstanding legal principles” (Michael Geist). Consequently, as Jenkins has suggested, the studios have to recognize the increasing power and influence of participatory culture and try to collaborate with them rather than setting up restraint on them. Yet, Jenkins is also aware of how thin the line between fans fiction and unauthorized and derived works is. It is almost the grey area, if there is even a line at all.

By and large, I think Jenkins is very clever to use Harry Potter as his example to support his argument. While agreeing on Jenkins’s perspectives, we have to be aware of the immense and perhaps sole popularity of Harry Potter. While it is true that there are numerous works that generate much attention and disputes from popular culture, such as the Da Vinci Code, or Lords of the Ring, Harry Potter stands out the rest with its significant appeal to a wide demographic range. For instance, children would not likely discuss Lords of the Rings and general adults would not likely argue over the plot and characters of the Chronicles of Narnia. Besides, as Jenkins also admits, the fans community of Harry Potter is the first to overcome the studios’ restrictions for the employment of Harry Potter’s intellectual property. So while Jenkins is right in most of his assertions through the example of Harry Potter, his proposal does not necessarily cover the overall context of the relationship between fandom and corporations.

Nevertheless, while Harry Potter demonstrates a temporary yet prominent emergence of the power of participatory culture, it certainly offers many glimpses of what the future may look like. One can either believe that Harry Potter is the first of the forthcoming globalized products that will open new doors for more collaborating between studios and fan communities and subsequently allows the fans to have freer usage of media symbols, or the last—the one-of-the-kind—that suggests its incredible influences would not surface again.




  1. Jenkins chapter “Why Heather Can Write” is a multi-layered discussion involving media literacy, copyright law, public relations, industrial practices, and the varied interpretations of Potter by seemingly similar conservative organizations.

    For your discussion you’ve focused on the copyright aspect and the ways that the fan-fic communities refused to sit quietly while Warner Bros. attempted to exert some levels of control. More important than the legal ramifications of this debate (which is your focus) are the public relations ramifications. You see, the fan-fic communities “won” this battle because WB realized that stepping on the toes of the loyals was not the way to engender the continuation of this loyalty. In short, they realized how connected and globalized these communities were and quickly backed away from their stance; not because they were legally wrong, but because the stance they had taken was a bad business move.

    In this respect, I tend to disagree with your assertion that Jenkins glosses over the context of the relationship between fans and corporations. The insertion of the PR angle speaks directly to this context and he has provided a game plan for future groups to rebel against the corporate or legal powers that exist. The keys to success involve opening the conversations to the larger interested public and revealing for others the practices of the corporations. Once a corporate entity is convinced that their efforts could result in a loss of future dollars, then the power shifts from corporate hands to audience members’ hands. In short, the power of the audience involves where they choose to, or more importantly not to, spend their money.

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