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Ruminations: Harry Potter and the Treasure of Silicon Valley

Ruminations: Harry Potter and the Treasure of Silicon Valley

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Big news for fans of the tales of this young student of the magical arts. Perhaps none bigger than an introduction from a certain Cupertino based company.

"SAN FRANCISCO-September 7, 2005-Apple® today announced that the entire Harry Potter audiobook series is now available exclusively on the iTunes® Music Store, the world's number one online music service. For the first time ever, every audiobook in the series, including the latest release, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," is available as a digital download from iTunes. Customers can either download individual audiobooks or the complete Harry Potter Digital Box Set which includes a full color digital booklet as well as previously unreleased readings from author J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter fans can also purchase the complete Harry Potter Digital Box Set together with a Collector's Edition 20GB iPod® engraved with the Hogwarts crest.

"We are honored that J.K. Rowling has picked iTunes for the debut of the Harry Potter audiobook series," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "We're delighted to be able to bring these wonderful and wildly popular stories to iTunes Music Store customers."

The complete Harry Potter Digital Box Set is equivalent to almost 100 CDs, but customers can purchase this entire audiobook collection with just one click and then transfer all six books onto their iPod to take with them wherever they go.

Up to now, The Harry Potter audiobook series from Listening Library (a division of the Random House Audio Publishing Group) has been available only on CD and cassette. It is by far the best selling series in the history of audiobook publishing, with the six books selling over five million copies. The narrator of all six books available in North America, Jim Dale, won a Grammy award in 2000 for "Best Spoken Word" as well as earned three Grammy nominations for his work on the series. The audiobook series is available online for the first time exclusively on iTunes."

Cool... Harry Potter and the wizards of Cupertino! Check this link for the page from Apple with all of the details. But they weren't satisfied with simply introducing the Harry Potter audio books for iTunes. They also introduced a special version of the iPod with the Hogwarts crest engraved on it.

At 20 gigabytes, it may not be the biggest or fanciest of the iPod line. Still, I predict that this will be very popular with fans of all ages. Just as the U2 ipod was popular with that fandom, I suspect that there many of these will be the hot gift this Christmas.

Opinions about this news are much like a box of Bertie Botts Beans. Not all are complimentary. It seems that there are as many thoughts on the subject as there are flavors of these jelly beans. Casting about the internet on various Harry Potter fan sites, there is a bit of consternation with the iTunes release of the audio books. Folks using the USA iTunes store can download the versions read by Jim Dale; while folks using the UK iTunes Store are able to download the versions read by Steven Fry. Both actors have their devotees, and it seems that those who prefer one over the other are rather upset that their choices are limited.

Interesting indeed... But as to why now for this online adventure? On her official web site, author J.K. Rowling shares a bit of frustration with technology, especially when it comes to protecting her creations.

"Many Harry Potter fans have been keen for digital access for a while, but the deciding factor for me in authorising this new version is that it will help combat the growing incidents of piracy in this area. There have been a number of incidents where fans have stumbled upon unauthorised files believing them to be genuine and, quite apart from the fact that they are illegal, the Harry Potter content of these can bear very little resemblance to anything I've ever written!"

Reading further on, she shares her frustrations with eBay and its practice of allowing sales of Harry Potter counterfeit merchandise to flourish.

"A recent perusal of the e-Bay stocks of 'signed' Harry Potter merchandise was quite alarming for the person who allegedly signed these stacks of books, posters and even, in one case, an unauthorised biography that I would never, and have never, put my signature to. As far as I could tell on the day I dropped in, only one of the signatures on offer appeared genuine. There seem to be a lot of people out there trying to con Harry Potter fans. The same is true in respect to the huge number of unauthorised Harry Potter e-Books and audio digital files that users of e-Bay have offered for sale to Harry Potter fans.

E-Bay seem unable to control or to take preventative steps to avoid users of their site offering forged Harry Potter merchandise for sale to innocent fans who might wish to purchase such goods; they also continue to refuse to accept any responsibility for allowing forged Harry Potter merchandise to be offered for sale on their site (while, of course, profit is made from the sale of said merchandise).

So it remains for me to warn you personally: 'bonded certificates of authenticity' do not guarantee that I have ever been on the same continent of the book in question, let alone signed it. As far as I can tell from watching the 'signed' Harry Potter merchandise on e-Bay, for every (as far as I can tell) genuine signature there are six to ten fakes. Therefore, I am now advising Harry Potter fans in search of rare and/or signed editions that it is much safer to buy from reputable / authorised book dealers rather than e-Bay and other similar auction houses.

I would be delighted if the online community of Harry Potter fans canvassed e-Bay directly, asking that they be protected against this exploitation; you might succeed where I have so far failed."

Ebay has responded to this news item in the press. On the one hand, they have said that they rely on consumers to police their site. On the other, a spokesman called Hani Durzi says that 'it is the responsibility of the copyright owner to report any listings that violate their rights.'

Ebay might be interested to learn that most Harry Potter fans are children, whose ability to verify the authenticity of signatures is not to be entirely trusted. Meanwhile Hani Durzi seems unaware that I have advised Ebay repeatedly, through my legal representative, that many signatures for sale on their site appear to be fake, but have yet to see any reduction in the number of forgeries on offer. The same is true in respect to other pirate Harry Potter merchandise offered for sale by Ebay users, such as e-Books where we have pointed out to Ebay that 100% of the items being offered for sale are fake.

What I am calling for is prevention rather than cure (which has had limited effect here in any event). After all, reputable booksellers and auction houses take steps to ensure that signatures are genuine BEFORE they put them up for sale. The current situation has Ebay profiting from the Ebay users relentless scamming of Harry Potter fans while, in effect, telling them that they have no-one but themselves - or me - to blame."

I don't know about you, but this is not someone or a consumer group that I would like to have thinking ill of me or my company. The topic of eBay allowing unlicensed merchandise or materials to be sold online is one worth exploring further. From sports to entertainment memorabilia to all kinds of collectibles, there certainly seems to be a great deal of potential revenue being lost by the copyright holders. Despite protests by eBay, they still get their cut from the sale of every such item. And it certainly seems that they are not in any hurry to slow that revenue stream. If someone as well placed as J.K. Rowling and her "legal representatives" can not put a stop to this practice, one has to wonder who could. I don't think we have heard the end of this story by any means.

Ask any fan of the tales of the young wizard and you are certain to learn that the next installment in this popular series of movies is coming very soon. "Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire" will appear near you on November 18th.

Earlier this year, you all generously helped out by supporting the efforts toward relief of the victims of the Tsunami. If you can see your way to doing so again, the victims of Hurricane Katrina now face many of the same daily challenges for basic necessities. Even though this happened closer to home, the need is every bit as real and as serious. Consider a donation to the American Red Cross if you can. Every bit helps, even more now...

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