So Hari Puttar has finally overcome Harry Potter — and this with no use of magic or witchcraft (other than spell-binding defence arguments). The legal battle between Warner Bros and Mirchi Movies, the makers of ‘Hari Puttar – A Comedy of Terrors’ caught the attention of the world media in various ways, including Goliath versus David, Hollywood versus Bollywood, and obscure legalese versus plain common sense. Common sense prevailed with the Delhi High Court’s dismissal of the Warner Bros lawsuit. It contended that the film’s title sought to confuse customers and benefit unfairly from the Harry Potter brand, the rights to which the United States-based entertainment behemoth owns for movies and merchandise. Looking vicariously from the sidelines at this battle over intellectual property rights — replete with arguments as Daedalian and labrynthine as the Enchanted Maze that Potter navigates — it is hard to see what the kerfuffle was all about. All right, Hari Puttar sounds suspiciously like Harry Potter. So what? After all, Harry Potter has spawned a virtual industry of rip-offs and parodies. For instance, the hugely successful series of Barry Trotter books (the first book, published in 2001, sold 700,000 copies in three years) has characters such as Ermine Cringer and Lon Measly who study at the Hogwash School of Wizardry and Witchcrap. Other books on the stands: Hairy Potter and the Marijuana Stone and Hairy Potty and the Underwear of Justice. As for cinema, ‘Harvey Putter and the Ridiculous Premise’ is being readied for release in 2010 with such stars as Hernia Grunger, Lord Moldymort, and K.J. Bowling herself.
Why is Puttar an issue when the Putters, Pottys, and the Potheads escape litigation? The short answer lies in western intellectual property law, where the right to free speech is a defence against copyright and trademark violations in relation to such things as parodies. Ironically, the problem with the Puttar film — about a young boy who grows up in Britain and pits his wits against a don called Kali Mirchi — is that it bears no resemblance at all to the Potter saga! Therefore the title of the film was open to trademark litigation, on the ground that audience could confuse it with a Harry Potter film. The Delhi High Court has rightly concluded that the audience in India and elsewhere is more than capable of discerning one from the other. But where would we be without the majestic inscrutability of the law, in which similar is dissimilar and unlike is like, and which has given us a fascinating ringside view of Potter versus Puttar?