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Harry Potter court drama continues

City's Wyrd Sisters forge ahead with $40-M suit

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MORE than two years after it started, a legal battle between a little-known Winnipeg folk group and the creators of the Harry Potter movies is now stretching over three courtrooms in two provinces, with the fate of some wizardly video games and merchandise at stake.

The Wyrd Sisters, having already lost a bid to block the release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, are forging ahead with a $40-million lawsuit and are asking a judge to order the destruction of DVDs, compact discs, video games and other paraphernalia that contain references to a musical act named The Weird Sisters.

"The Wyrd Sisters have spent over 15 years working on and developing the goodwill associated with their band's name," reads the group's statement of claim filed in the Federal Court of Canada in Toronto.

"All of these efforts will be nullified as the goodwill is wiped out in the tidal wave of fame associated with the Harry Potter phenomenon."

The statement of claim includes allegations which have not been proven in court. Warner Bros. has not filed a statement of defence and rejected an interview request.

The folk group -- essentially singer-songwriter Kim Baryluk and a revolving group of singers and musicians -- tried to block the November 2005 Canadian release of Goblet of Fire when word got out that the movie, like the novel on which it is based, was to feature a musical group called either The Weird Sisters or The Wyrd Sisters, consisting of members of British rock acts Radiohead and Pulp.

Warner Bros. removed any reference to the band's name from the movie, but Baryluk said the damage had already been done by an avalanche of publicity prior to the film's debut.

An Ontario Superior Court judge ruled against Baryluk, saying the publicity was more likely to help her band than hurt it. The court later ordered Baryluk to pay Warner Bros.'s legal costs of $140,000.

Baryluk, who declined an interview request on her lawyer's advice, feels the name she worked hard to develop is being taken away from her.

"Consumers will assume that the smaller and less famous Canadian band is trying to take advantage of the Harry Potter fame by copying the Harry Potter band's name when in fact the reverse is true," reads her statement of claim.

The lawsuit seeks the "delivery-up for destruction" of all visual performances, sound recordings and merchandise relating to the "Harry Potter Weird Sisters" band, which Baryluk claims includes the film's soundtrack, video games such as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and the Harry Potter Scene-It game, as well as trading cards.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. has filed a motion in Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, alleging Baryluk has failed to pay the $140,000 judgment against her in 2006. The court has ordered Baryluk to attend Warner Bros. lawyer's offices in Winnipeg, along with her financial statements.

The battle is also continuing in Ontario Superior Court, where Baryluk's lawyer is alleging improper conduct on the part of two judges and two Warner Bros. lawyers stemming from the initial 2005 hearings

The attempt to block the movie's release in 2005 stirred up controversy on the Internet as Harry Potter and Radiohead fans filled The Wyrd Sisters' online message board with angry rants.

Some pointed out the term "Wyrd Sisters" dates back at least as far as Shakespeare's Macbeth, and was the title of a book by British author Terry Pratchett in 1988 -- two year before the Winnipeg group formed.

But Baryluk's lawyer has said the issue centres on which musical act has the right to use the name.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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