Since it was first published in 1997, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has generated billions. The books alone are estimated to have made in excess of $7 billion, but as the inspiration for films, plays, video games, theme parks, and a massive range of goods, they’ve enjoyed a life beyond their original pages. As with other brands who’ve achieved global popularity, however, this success also created a demand that has been capitalized upon by sellers of fake merchandise too. Although we commonly talk about artistic enterprises in relation to copyright infringement and piracy, the Potter series was so successful in establishing itself as a brand that it’s also had to defend itself with a wide range of trademarks.
Even today, 22 years after the first book was published, potentially fake wands, gowns, and stripy school scarves are a constant fixture on online marketplaces. These products aren’t branded only with obvious trademarks like those belonging to the characters or the novels, but have taken on symbols from the stories themselves, particularly that of the triangular “deathly hallows” image.
In 2018, one seizure of counterfeit Harry Potter merchandise in Spain found goods to the value of £300,000. The seized items included fake wands cloaks, and scarves.
How Much Money From Franchise Merchandise is Potentially Lost to Fakes?
It’s impossible to pinpoint an exact figure for the losses in this area but merchandise inspired by books and films is frequently targeted by counterfeiters. The fake products that fall within this area constitute an important part of the 3.3% of global trade ($509 billion) which the OECD and EUIPO estimate are lost to counterfeiting annually. Although the OECD and EUIPO data doesn’t separate counterfeit goods from pirated goods, nor tangible from intangible, it does differentiate between specific industries, a number of which fall under the merchandising umbrella. So, while the 3.3% denotes the amount of all counterfeit goods in world trade circulation, a more conservative 1.7%* average can be said to apply to tangible counterfeits that occur in several industries heavily linked to merchandising.
Having seen the presence of “unofficial” Potter merchandise online, and assuming that this general figure of 1.7% for the tangible products in these sectors is correct, then the estimated $15 billion earned by Harry Potter merchandise seems sure to have generated many millions in counterfeits too.
Harry Potter isn’t alone in being targeted by counterfeiters, and the series sits among a number of other high-profile film franchises that also make huge returns from merchandising campaigns. To put the potential losses incurred by the counterfeiting of franchise merchandising into perspective, below are three of the highest grossing franchises of all time.
Revenues Generated by Three of the Highest Grossing Film Franchises
Cars (first film) – $10 billion generated
The 2006 animated film about talking motor vehicles has become a surprisingly profitable franchise for Disney/Pixar. Some have argued that the remarkable success of the merchandising from the original film is what eventually prompted a sequel. Though the films have never received stellar reviews, a third film in the franchise was released in 2017, propelling it’s merchandising sales and locking it in as a money-making behemoth.
Toy Story (series) – $19 billion generated
Toy Story’s $19 billion in merchandising revenue began with the first film’s release in 1995. With the majority of the film’s characters being animated toys, the subsequent merchandising of the film was a fairly natural progression. With the release of another sequel in 2019, the franchise continues to have enduring appeal for audiences.
Star Wars (series) – $30 billion+
Despite grossing billions in box office sales over its 42-year history, it’s been estimated that Star Wars has also made more than $30 billion from its merchandise. As an example of its merchandising success, 2015’s The Force Awakens made $2 billion in ticket sales, but nearly $6 billion in merchandising during the fiscal year it was released.
While these brands have grown into media empires, most didn’t start as franchises. It’s impossible to guess which characters or worlds will be adored by the public, which is why preventative measures should be taken concerning brand protection. Registering trademarks and finding the right distributors to license your characters are important steps in protecting both artistic integrity and brand profitability. If your company has developed an identifiable character, you may want to take preventative steps to defend it online. It could be that your company’s creation becomes the newest phenomenon — in which case it helps to be prepared for a barrage of online infringements and to take advice from the experts in protecting it.
*This approximate, indicative figure is based on findings from the OECD and EUIPO report. The industries we have included in the merchandising umbrella are Clothing (9.7%), Toys and Games (3.0%), Electronics (35%), Plastics and articles thereof (1.5%), Miscellaneous manufactured articles (1.2%), and Other made up textiles (2.0%) listed on page 47. The combined total of these industries amounts to 52.4% which was applied to the 3.3% of total counterfeit goods in world trade.