I used to be terrified of Warner Brothers.
Recently, I asked a friend to re-send to me a cease and desist letter that her fansite had received from WB in January of 2003, and when the subject line "C&D" showed up in my inbox, even though I knew it was going to be there, my heart skipped a beat and I had to catch my breath. Even after years of a good working relationship with Warner Brothers and Bloomsbury, J. K. Rowling's agents, Universal, and Scholastic, seeing those letters and that symbol in my inbox sends me right back to 2001 and 2002 and 2003, when we felt like we existed at their sufferance.
That's what fandom taught you, all those years ago. Anne Rice would send a nasty letter to FanFiction.net and they would delete all the fanfic based on her books, close the section, and bar comments in the forum. Paramount could come into a fan con with Cleveland law enforcement and close the vendor room for three hours, with no warning and no notice, and fans couldn't do anything about it. If someone uploaded the Sorcerer's Stone trailer to the Files section on your Yahoo group, and WB found out about it and complained to Yahoo, they might delete your entire community and everything in it; they didn't even have to provide a way for you to get in contact with the members of the community. It'd just be gone.
The large-for-that-time Harry Potter for Grownups Yahoo group, which hosted over 4,500 messages per month at its peak, suffered a few nerve-racking months when a former mod decided to retaliate against the community. Her complaints to Yahoo resulted in the deletion of one of the group's organizational mailing lists, and forced us to close the files section. If someone uploaded a random song, then had a friend complain to Yahoo, under their terms of service they could close a whole community down. Then, it got worse. After she unsubscribed herself from the mods' organizational list, the mod claimed complete ownership of the posts she had made, and only stopped her harassment when I successfully argued to Yahoo that she had granted the group a license to her posts for archival purposes.
If one individual could cause that much unrest, we thought, imagine what Warner Brothers could do if they learned about fandom!
Of course, they already knew. Fandom had already survived the domain name disputes of 2000 and 2001, where Warner Brothers sent Umbridge-esque threatening letters to teens around the world, insisting they hand over domain names that included terms from the Harry Potter series. Children and teens (and their lawyers) had pushed back by pointing out that their usages were non-infringing and non-commercial. But the disputes made it clear that Warner Brothers and J. K. Rowling were aware that fans existed, chatted, and created amongst themselves.
But was it true that fanfiction writers were bad fans, as journalist Christopher Noxon claimed in a sensationalized article in 2001 (which he rewrote in 2003, causing fans to panic when it was published again)? Was Warner Brothers waiting for a section of fandom to poke its head up, so they could lop it off? Was WB "likely to greet Harry Potter slashers with more takedown orders than tolerance"? Were "billable hours . . . about to start piling up"?i
Probably not, as I learned late in 2003 when I made my first visit to Warner Brothers' studios in Burbank to meet with members of the Harry Potter team and their intellectual property counsel. At every meeting, they were nice, friendly, and supportive of fans, fandom and fannish creativity--even slash fanfic. In a way, our discussions were the direct result of a piece on the front page of the New York Times in May 2002. The Times article opened with a paragraph from a Harry/Draco AU (alternative universe) called "Snitch!" where the boys were gangsters in London circa 2010, then continued with a few quotes from me and others about fanfiction, romantic ships, and storyline predictions .
The day after the article ran, when posts were popping up on Usenet, in Yahoo groups, and on FictionAlley about the havoc Warner Brothers and J. K. Rowling were surely going to wreak on the Potter fandom and all other fandoms besides, I got an email from the new manager of the recently relaunched WBShop.com site, asking if FictionAlley wanted to be an affiliate of their store.