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

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70 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

“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.

DandonTRJ (profile) says:

Re: 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.

DandonTRJ (profile) says:

Re: 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.

DandonTRJ (profile) says:

Re: 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.

CN says:

Re: Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: 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.

The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

Re: 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?

weneedhelp (profile) says:

Re: 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.

KEVIN says:

Re: 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.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

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.

DandonTRJ (profile) says:

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).

Suja (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Bilbo says:

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.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

IndustrialPope (profile) says:

Re: 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!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Zakida Paul says:

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?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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 storepubvenuewhatever, you can say look, no soup for you!

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Alison says:

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.

aethercowboy (profile) says:

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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