Decades-Old UK Pub 'The Hobbit' Threatened With Legal Action For Infringing On Hobbit IP

from the pointless dept

As a whole bunch of folks have been sending in, the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC), which holds the intellectual property rights associated with The Hobbit, has stupidly threatened a small UK pub called "The Hobbit" which has used the name for over 20 years without any problem.
The article isn't clear if we're talking about copyrights, trademarks or both, but either way the whole thing is pretty silly. Yes, the pub "features characters from Tolkien's stories on its signs, has 'Frodo' and 'Gandalf' cocktails on the menu, and the face of Lord of the Rings film star Elijah Wood on its loyalty card." But is this really harming the rightsholder? I'm sure that SZC is doing all sorts of ridiculously lucrative licensing deals for the upcoming Hobbit movie, and so it's trying to clear the field of infringers, but all this does is make them look like massive, insensitive bullies. Hell, even Stephen Fry, who's starring in the movie, has tweeted how ridiculous this is, calling it "pointless, self-defeating bullying." But, you know, that's pretty much how Hollywood functions these days.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:10pm

    "But is this really harming the rightsholder?"

    Yes it is - but you don't seem to grasp the basics.

    If you allow this one, then by extension you allow them to open another location, and another, and franchise it out, and soon you have The Hobbit all over the place, with the characters and concepts dragged down to the level of selling booze.

    So yeah, it hurts.

    It's amazing sometimes how you entirely miss the concept.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:18pm

    Re:

    The small individual pub that has been using the same name for 20 years is suddenly going to spring up into a giant franchised empire?

    Your delusions grow ever larger.

     

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    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:21pm

    Re:

    I actually have to agree. If it was just the name and general Tolkien vibe, I'd call it stupid. If they're actively using the characters and even images of the film cast, it crosses over from tribute to near-implied endorsement, and would definitely hamper any future use of Tolkien's IP. But the SMART thing to do here would be to just license the use for a reasonable to nominal amount, if only so they can't be accused of sleeping on their rights, while not seeming like bullies for doing so.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:36pm

    Big Bullying Small

    Alas, some stupid judge will correctly note that it is Hollywood vs a small pub. The pub will lose. That pub will not be called "The Hobbit" for much longer. If only we could find politicians to vote for who would defend the rights of the little guy.

     

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    Mr. Smarta** (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:43pm

    The new name

    Sure. Just rename the bar "SZC Licks Our Nuts" and put out bowls of peanuts, pecans, etc. See how much they like that.

     

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    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:47pm

    Re: Big Bullying Small

    Article says this fight is copyright-based. That means it's over the copyrighted characters being used, not the name of the business (a trademark issue). Ergo, the pub won't have to change its name, unless there's an unreported trademark claim being pursued as well.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:51pm

    Re:

    From what I understand trademarks are limited also by business categories, what do publishing and films have to do with pubs?

     

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    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:51pm

    Re: Re:

    No smart IP lawyer sleeps on a claim because they think it's unlikely to be a threat. If they ignored it and it became an issue later, they could be estopped from pursuing a claim under a statute of limitations or laches. So I don't blame them for taking some sort of action. But I do blame them for being hamfisted about it.

     

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    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:51pm

    Re: Re:

    No smart IP lawyer sleeps on a claim because they think it's unlikely to be a threat. If they ignored it and it became an issue later, they could be estopped from pursuing a claim under a statute of limitations or laches. So I don't blame them for taking some sort of action. But I do blame them for being hamfisted about it.

     

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  10.  
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    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 8:52pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Whoops. Double-post. Damn you, iOS!

     

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    Atkray (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:02pm

    So this should be a non-issue because the subject material should be in the public domain.

    Except the copytards fubared the system.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:05pm

    Re: Re:

    It becomes an issue of misuse of the characters, and it woudl be easy enough for the old "moron in a hurry" to assume there is some relation between the book writer and this establishment. It is a supported "official" pub?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:07pm

    wow, Mike, you really missed the point, if this pub was only called the hobbit, yeha i could see it being a little self defeating, but thet are activly useing the imageds form the movie, they crossed the line, but appearntly that de4osnt bother a pirate freeloader like you

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:07pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    I don't disagree, but none of that makes TAM's imaginary sprawling Hobbit Pub Empire any less silly.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:24pm

    How dare they advertise the Tolkien franchise for free!

     

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    TtfnJohn (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:36pm

    Re:

    You know as someone who has read and re-read LoTR and the Hobbit more times that I can count over the past 40 years I have to tell you that I can't see Tolkien being overly concerned about some of the characters selling grog. Sam, you need to remember was part of a pub operation in The Shire.

    As for franchising out the name if the owners of the place haven't done that after two decades they're not about to now.

    This is pure bullying on the same level as the IOC trying to force Olympia Pizza in Vancouver to change it's name and logo lest someone confuse a well known pizza joint with the Olympics. No one is about to confuse this little pub with Hobbitt/LoTR official stuff so I fail to see what the problem is about.

     

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    Bilbo, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:48pm

    Tolkien's wishes

    The ridiculous thing about this and all the other overly-aggressive IP rights crusades over the Hobbit/LOTR stories is that Tolkien set out to create a mythology for England, as he felt that it did not have a sufficient mythology of its own. But a mythology, locked up for generations and generations, is not a mythology at all -- it's just someone else's really nice story.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 9:48pm

    I see they have a sign live music, now the RIAA will go after them as well they are doomed. What did they think they were free to operate a buisness those fools.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 10:10pm

    Re: Re:

    Let's say I want to make some money off the Hobbit name. I go and buy this pub out for $x, and then franchise it.

    Are you telling me that this isn't possible?

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 10:14pm

    Yeah because the use of the word hobbit does not precede its use by Tolkien... er wait... it does.

    They could have come to an arrangement to settle the issues, gotten a tiny license fee, removed some of the "bad things" from the menu and the like... but instead the only option ever considered is nuclear.

    The fact they have been in business for 20 years unmolested should cause them all sorts of problems in forcing a name change, as to the other issues of other things using character names one would need to look at how long they have been in use.
    If you want to ignore it for 20 years and suddenly get offended, you should not have the option to smash them now.

    Part of copyrights and such is the requirement that you actually do the work in protecting it... not when its convenient or make someone else do it for you and foot the bill.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2012 @ 10:24pm

    Re:

    Actually, the "do the work in protecting it" bit is specific to trademarks, not copyright.

    So, if this is a trademark claim, then I suspect they're going to have a tough time... although they'll probably claim that this establishment has only recently come to their attention, and that is why they are taking action now.

    If they started opening new franchise establishments, then there would definitely be a valid trademark claim at that point, but until that happens, this establishment is just that...established.

    If it's a copyright claim, I suspect there's some arguments for "fair use" here... but I suspect we'll have to wait and see.

     

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  22.  
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    Chosen Reject (profile), Mar 14th, 2012 @ 10:59pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    Do you mean like how they ignored it for 20 years?

     

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  23.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 12:13am

    Re: Re: Re:

    So...you're saying that the moron in a hurry wouldn't know Tolkien (the book writer) has been dead since 1973?
    So, does this mean I can't build a pub and slap Cthulhu characters all around it (Lovecraft) or Alice in Wonderland (Charles Dickens)?

     

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    Rikuo (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 12:14am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    My mistake, Alice in Wonderland was written by Lewis Carroll.

     

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    IndustrialPope (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 12:45am

    Re:

    "They could have come to an arrangement to settle the issues, gotten a tiny license fee, removed some of the "bad things" from the menu and the like... but instead the only option ever considered is nuclear."

    This right here is the heart of the matter, instead of choosing the "soft option" they went with the PR disaster of "the bully-option" and now the Hobbit has a wealth op public support.

    Trademark and copyright are once again being viewed as a nuisance to the "small guy", great going morons!

     

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  26.  
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    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 1:22am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Ignored, or just never knew? (If they sat on their hands, there could be a laches issue.)

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 1:56am

    Re: Re: Re:

    And the problem with that would be exactly what?

    Did Tolkien hold the trademarks for pubs or just for his publishing? There is no competition there, those are two different segments of the market, where is the pub Hobbit using characters from it or trying to be associated with Tolkien in any way?
    Further Tolkien apparently didn't invent the term Hobbit either which makes claims of trademarks on it very, very suspicious and weak.

     

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  28.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 2:03am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Quote:
    The word also turns up in a very long list of folkloric supernatural creatures in the writings of Michael Aislabie Denham (d.1859), printed in volume 2 of "The Denham Tracts" [ed. James Hardy, London: Folklore Society, 1895], a compilation of Denham's scattered publications. Denham was an early folklorist who concentrated on Northumberland, Durham, Westmoreland, Cumberland, the Isle of Man, and Scotland.
    Source: Etymonline search: Hobbit

    What characters if the pub is named as Hobbit and has nothing in there linking it to Tolkien's work, where is the problem exactly?

    Trademarks are business specific, where is the relation to the publishing or film world?

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 2:42am

    Obviously fair use. This whole thing is stupid.

     

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  30.  
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    Goyo, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 2:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Charles Dogson?

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 3:03am

    Re: Re:

    It doesn't even look like the house of a Tolkien's Hobbit.

     

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  32.  
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    Richard (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 3:28am

    Re:

    If you allow this one, then by extension you allow them to open another location, and another, and franchise it out, and soon you have The Hobbit all over the place, with the characters and concepts dragged down to the level of selling booze.

    So yeah, it hurts.

    It's amazing sometimes how you entirely miss the concept.


    Ok - so what would they do if they were smart

    1. Realize that pursuing this one would be really bad publicity.

    2. Offer the pub a free licence. (Gets around the "by extension" argument).

    3. Hold a publicity event at the pub to promote the film.

    But of course they, like you, are stupid AND mean.

     

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  33.  
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    Ninja (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 4:18am

    Suddenly I wanna send SZC a Frodo pinch with a Freddo chocolate bar just for the lulz.... I'm afraid they'll sue Freddo because it sounds like Frodo and it'll harm their business.....

     

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    Zakida Paul (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 4:24am

    I can't believe people would defend the pub. If it were a name only issue I would say that they are possibly being over zealous but they use character names and images and they have the image of a LOTR star on their loyalty card, for crying out loud. They do all of this without paying royalties so what did they expect would happen?

     

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  35.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:09am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Charles Dodgson

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:15am

    Re:

    So, in the interest of good will the rights holder should say, look, we know you've been using this name for the last 20 years but we want to make sure we protect ourselves so others can't just start using the name. We'll sell you a license to use the name for $25 bucks [or some other arbitrary low number] if you agree not to do x and agree not to disclose the terms of this agreement. Don't be greedy about it. Just make sure your rights are covered by an agreement so that if someone does try to franchise some insanely large store\pub\venue\whatever, you can say look, no soup for you!

     

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  37.  
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    CN, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:28am

    That was my take on the situation too.

    That was my take on the situation too.

    I'm sure they need not be so harsh. Tell them to drop the images from the movie, keep everything else. We'll give you a license for $1/year. If you want to expand to more locations at any time, that's not covered in the current license, and would be renegotiated at that time.

    That should be good for everyone.

     

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  38.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:41am

    I think people who are arguing that the pub is using the likenesses of the character and a number of other potentially or actually copyrighted concepts from the book and/or movie are missing the greater point being made here. If it's a trademark issue it's still, different industries and all, if it's a copyright issue Tolkien has been dead for years. While they're more than likely violating some copyrights in their use of the images those images should be public domain by now but they aren't because the length of copyright terms in the US and UK is absurd.

     

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  39.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:43am

    Re: Re:

    Legally I agree, under current law the 'rights holders' are doing what they should do/have to do.

    However I disagree with the current law. These characters and likenesses should have long since been public domain by now. Tolkien is dead.

     

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  40.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:45am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    There's a ton of shit at the pub linking to Tolkien's work. That sign in the far right of the image above? That's got likenesses of Gandalf, Golem, and three hobbits on it. This is not the only incidence of such uses.

    That said, the copyrights on these things should have long since expired.

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:47am

    Re:

    Exactly. Gotta keep paying Tolkien's estate though, otherwise he won't be incentivised retroactively to keep writing from beyond the grave.

     

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  42.  
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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 5:48am

    In Other News

    In other news, the UK pub known as 'The Hobbit' recently saw a 500% increase in business from tourists ...

     

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  43.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 6:21am

    Re:

    What do you mean "dragged down to the level of selling booze"? Selling booze is a sacred and holy business, keeping millions employed and billions happy, as opposed to peddling diversionary literary rubbish to people who would be better served by drinking it. What are you? One of those temperance promoting hand-wringers decrying Demon Rum?

     

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    hfbs (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 6:54am

    It's ludicrous. The pub has been around since waaaaay before Jackson films, they should be allowed to keep the name.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 7:16am

    If you don't protect your rights you lose them. It's part of the law. It's called abandonment, look it up!

     

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  46.  
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    Samwise, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 7:20am

    Oh Dear

    They can take my sandwich when they pry it from my cold greasy fingers:

    http://www.bilbospizza.com

    17. Old Fatty, whose wise nose led him here.
    Sliced breast of turkey, choice roast beef,
    monterey jack cheese, shredded lettuce,
    fresh tomato and mayo on 7 grain bread .
    ............ $6.79

     

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    Suja (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 7:22am

    Re:

    yeah no joke

     

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  48.  
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    Suja (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 7:27am

    Re:

    but thet are activly useing the imageds form the movie, they crossed the line

    I find the thought of "line crossing" involving putting up images of movie/book characters pretty amusing.

    Now maybe if they had THIS http://cdn.trendhunterstatic.com/thumbs/middle-finger-stop-sign.jpeg as one of their signs I might understand the issue, but, eh, sense, not to be found within 500 miles of censorright dealings.

     

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  49.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 7:31am

    Re: Re:

    "now the Hobbit has a wealth op public support"

    Yeah, mostly from people who aren't old enough to drink legally yet. Big deal.

    I would say based on the comments here (and even Mike's original post) people who clearly don't have a clue when it comes to the issues at hand.

     

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  50.  
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    Suja (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 7:32am

    Re:

    Yup, agreed, but that's not how things work in censorland.

     

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  51.  
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    Alison, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 7:59am

    The problem they don't probably realise is that they've started a war against one of the most popular student pubs in Southampton. 5000 students x 23 years = 100,000 people (nearly 7,000 of whom are now lawyers) who love The Hobbit pub. Believe me, The Hobbit pub has a massively larger number of friends than the saul zaentz company realises.

     

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    MonkeyFracasJr (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 8:21am

    Re:

    Even if I grant your example as possible, if not likely, won't you admit there are better, more "friendly" ways to handle the issue? Perhaps at least a quiet discussion with the pub owners to avoid making yourself look like a bully? I'm not even suggesting you back down, just handle it better.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 9:20am

    Re: The new name

    LOL GG

     

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  54.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 10:25am

    Re: Re: Re:

    IP/Trademarks with the same name can coexist in a market if the brands are different enough (best example: AFC Ajax, Ajax fire extinguishers and Ajax cleaning liquid in the Netherlands), problems in this matter arise from the fact that they used images from the movies to promote their pub and that what this issue is about.

    but the PR disaster is about them suing a pub that has been 20 years in existence under the name the hobbit.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 10:36am

    Re:

    So instead of the lairs saying hey, we know you have been using that name for 20 years and thats ok, but use of our characters goes overboard and we respectfully request you do not use them anymore.

    It features characters from Tolkien's stories on its signs, has "Frodo" and "Gandalf" cocktails on the menu, and the face of Lord of the Rings film star Elijah Wood on its loyalty card.

    "Landlady Ms Roberts said: "We were absolutely stunned. It was completely unexpected, we never intended to infringe anyone's copyright." - C'mon now lady really? She didnt think plastering the likeness of those character was copyright infringement?

    I dont agree they should have to change their name as they have been using it for 20 years, but use of the characters, that stretches it a little there. Does it hurt? No. Does it bring more attention to their product? Maybe.

    "A letter from SZC asked it to remove all references to the characters. " So without seeing the letter, and going on the BBC, it appears she does not have to change the name, just stop using the characters.

    Meh, not so bad IMHO.

    Now if they expect them to change the name, well lets get them on a kickstarter kind of program to get them the legal help they need.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 10:44am

    Re: Oh Dear

    I know i am getting old when i read the price my knee jerk reaction was 6.79!!!! [Old guy voice] Back in my day... you could get a soft ball size corn beef special, for 3.75. Now get off my lawn you damn kids. [end old guy rant]

    Time for lunch.

     

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  57.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 11:33am

    Re: Re:

    Just another story that Mike entirely failed on. Fast to slam copyright, slow to actually get the facts.

     

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    Dan, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 11:48am

    Oh noes!

    I guess the bar down the street called 'Bilbo Baggins' better look out!

     

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    aethercowboy (profile), Mar 15th, 2012 @ 1:09pm

    Are there actual licensed Hobbit-themed pubs/restaurants that would make this a trademark issue? 'Cause if there are, I'd totally want to try it out.

    I know there's a restaurant here in Houston with that name (since 1972), but I don't think it's any more licensed than the one in the UK...

    There's also a restaurant called Treebeards here (since 1978!).

    Will future Houstonians have to eat at "the Halfling" and "Treebeers" (both since 2012!) in the future? :O

     

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  60.  
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    KEVIN, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 1:32pm

    Re:

    I would be curious to see just how long SZC has had the "rights" and if the owners of the hobbit received permissions back when they opened the place, SZC also has the option to strike a deal instead of smashing the place.

    Why do these companies have to go ALL OUT to shut these places down instead of trying to compromise in a case where they have clearly used this name for years without problem.

     

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    Janelle, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 4:38pm

    Re: Re:

    I Agree.

     

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    Krissy, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 4:40pm

    This is ridiculous! The only ones who can sue are the author of the books or any living person who's likeness is being used not those morons from the film industry! I had a LOTR poster 22 years ago! Nope, no movie back then or greedy grotty film execs trying to claw financially into everything.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  63.  
    identicon
    Another Point of View, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 4:43pm

    Re:

    Let them shmooze up to the Pub owner and strike a deal to merchandise its upcoming movie with them. The rights holders have probably already been to the pub and had a few drinks.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  64.  
    identicon
    Here you go!, Mar 15th, 2012 @ 4:45pm

    Re: Big Bullying Small

    The Bad Hobbit

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  65.  
    icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 12:37pm

    Re: Re: Big Bullying Small

    Let me get this straight: Names of characters in fiction are the domain of copyright, and not trademark? So if I make a rock band called "Frodo" or "Gandalf", am I liable to be sued for Copyright Infringement and not Trademark Infringement? I'm asking this because I have a friend in a similar situation.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  66.  
    icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Big Bullying Small

    Just so you know, I know the difference between Trademark and Copyright, I just want to know if names of characters within commercial IP can be covered by copyright, trademark or both.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  67.  
    icon
    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 1:00pm

    Re: Re: Re: Big Bullying Small

    No, names and titles can't be covered by copyright (they're simply too short). The copyright issue here is not over the LotR character names, but their likenesses as used in the decor of the pub. You could use the names all you want, so long as they're not used in commerce in a manner that implies endorsement by the trademark holder or is likely to confuse consumers. This is almost never an issue with band names (ex: Atreyu, named after a character from The NeverEnding Story).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  68.  
    icon
    DandonTRJ (profile), Mar 16th, 2012 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Big Bullying Small

    Only trademark. It's well-established in copyright law that names and short titles are simply too insubstantial to satisfy the requisite threshold of creativity that engenders copyright protection (which, while generally deemed to be quite low, simply isn't that low).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  69.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 17th, 2012 @ 12:22am

    Re: Re:

    "Sam, you need to remember was part of a pub operation in The Shire."

    If you're referring to Samwise Gamgee, someone who has reread the books more times than he could count would probably remember that Sam was Frodo's gardener. Perhaps you're thinking of Nob, the hobbit who was part of a pub operation in Bree.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  70.  
    identicon
    bob marley, May 8th, 2012 @ 10:52am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    ganja

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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