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UK Pub 'The Hobbit' Offered License In Attempt To Stem PR Disaster

from the negotiation-by-threat dept

Well, that was fast. We recently wrote about a UK pub called The Hobbit that was threatened with legal action by the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC), which owns certain trademarks associated with the franchise. Perhaps because of the immediate backlash (which included public condemnation by Stephen Fry and Ian McKellan, both of whom are starring in the upcoming film adaptation of The Hobbit), producer Paul Zaentz told the BBC that he is prepared to offer the pub an inexpensive license:

“When it’s an established business, we like to get the company to acknowledge they are using our trademarks, stop selling infringing articles and then we will grant them a licence for a nominal fee – approximately $100 a year.”

“We asked to them to contact us and amicably resolve this and are open to any suggestions they have. I’d be glad to raise a pint with them the next time I’m over.”

Frankly, it sounds like Zaentz is just trying to smooth over the PR nightmare he was facing. It’s hard to amicably resolve a dispute with someone who is already threatening you with legal action. Friendly negotiations come before threats, not after. Why didn’t Zaentz just offer them the license in the first place? His description of the process is basically “meet all of our demands, then we’ll talk.”

All the coverage of this story mentions trademarks and copyrights in passing, without ever being clear about what rights were supposedly violated. Either way, it’s entirely possible that SZC does have a valid legal claim here, on at least some of the things the pub was doing—but if they want to pursue those claims, then they have to face the backlash from people who think they are being petty. They can’t just make it all okay by offering to have a beer together, while their lawyers still lurk in the wings.

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Companies: saul zaentz company

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Comments on “UK Pub 'The Hobbit' Offered License In Attempt To Stem PR Disaster”

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60 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Perhaps it was the alignment of the stars, or perhaps they paid attention to an underpaid copyright spewing fresh out of school dork with no actually life skills from Toronto babbling on about it.

Perhaps maybe the entire story was overblown, and this was in fact what was already happening.

Marcus: The man that can change the world! Take an extra kiss on Mike’s butt as your reward.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Chris Dodd would say it’s Google’s fault. But then again you aren’t a multi-million wage-CEO of an anti-piracy outfit so you blame a smaller guy instead. The people being responsible? BS.

Good thing Marcus was very far from being the first to talk about the case and the outrage had already built when he picked up. Hey, that’s precisely what happened with Google, they caught up in the middle =O

Fail troll is fail.

Baldaur Regis (profile) says:

Re: Nuke from orbit first, offer a license later after you get caught.

From the BBC article:

The Hobbit pub had been accused of copyright infringement by lawyers representing the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) in California. (emphasis added)


Given typical corporate structuring, it’s possible that producer Paul Zaentz wasn’t even aware these actions were being taken by the company’s lawyers until it hit the news.

Lawyers are nuclear weapons these days. SZC could have continued the typical MPAA butt-hurt stance and demanded the bar be closed, owners sued into oblivion, etc., but chose a more rational reaction- even if it was because of protest.

Although the question remains, if all “infringing articles” are removed, what’s left that needs licensing?

DandonTRJ (profile) says:

Some copyright owners still haven’t woken up to the fact that the general public now views the issue of copyright enforcement as an issue of equity. They don’t care that you have a valid copyright claim if you’re using it to extract millions of dollars from an elderly grandmother or six-year-old boy. Similarly, when you’ve got a pub that’s been operating for two decades with no evidence of consumer confusion and a sizable client base endeared to it, just because they may have crossed some minor IP lines does not mean you won’t be excoriated in the court of public opinion if you go about enforcing your rights the wrong way. And that’ll cost you far more in the long-run than whatever license fees you forfeit by not playing hardball. Maybe this will encourage artists’ estates to do a little bit more homework on their targets before they go rent-seeking.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This. The *AAs & their ilk have done incredible damage to copyright. Their overreaching, ludicrous claims, and blatant attempts to “steal” (to use their word) from the general public (by extending copyright terms indefinitely and attempting to eliminate fair use) have caused people to generally disregard copyright as an issue with any real validity and has discredited those entities generally.

If they had limited themselves to something reasonable, like holding to the intention of copyright and only harming those who violate that, they — and copyright in general — would have a lot more sympathy and support. Instead, they decided engage in what amounts to war against culture.

They shat in their own pool, and really only have themselves to blame.

Cowardly Anon says:

…we like to get the company to acknowledge they are using our trademarks, stop selling infringing articles…

This is what I hate most about copyright and trademarks. SZC did not created the the content in question here. They just managed to get the rights to something popular. What did this company do to create the content? Nothing.

As for the trademark claim, would a moron in a hurry really think this pub was set up by SZC or is apart of the LotR movie empire? I think not.

This pub has been open and operating long before SZC had the rights. They built up their own brand outside long before the movies were out. Did they play on the movies some? Yes. Dos that hurt SZC? No.

Frankly, I think the nominal fee should be $0 and an apology letter.

Also, I’d like to travel there and have a drink now b/c it looks like a cool pub 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“This pub has been open and operating long before SZC had the rights. They built up their own brand outside long before the movies were out. Did they play on the movies some? Yes. Dos that hurt SZC? No.”

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings animated films, which SZC did, came out in the late 1970s-early 1980s, predating the bar, which is only 20 years old (1990).

BuckRogers1965 (profile) says:

Trademark does not transfer across industries.

The trademark for the Hobbit that the people that own the rights to the book does not transfer over to an entirely different industry. You are free to create a Ford vibrator or an Apple iPlug that are sex toys without violating trademark law, because Ford and Apple are not in the industry of making sex toys. The same way a pub can freely name themselves after literary creations without being in violation of trademark because pubs are not publishing houses and publishing houses don’t serve patrons beer and greasy good foods.

Steerpike (profile) says:

Re: Trademark does not transfer across industries.

That’s not necessarily true. It is generally true of trademarks, but not true of ‘famous’ marks. I suspect the owners of “the Hobbit” for movies etc. will try to argue it is famous. Probably a bit of a stretch, but who knows.

The Apple iPlug example is not a good one, because Apple would likely be successful in the argument for a famous mark.

loki says:

Well for this and other reasons, I already know about 6-7 people who are going to boycott the movie, and about a dozen more who are on the fence about it.

Now given that this movie stand a good chance to make a billion+ dollars worldwide, a few hundred or even a few thousand isn’t going to make a big dent in the box office, but it’s still going to be more than they make from some of these piddling licenses.

Of course they’ll never admit their own behavior is driving people from wanting to attend their movies. Hell, they’ve flat out said they believe they are the only ones who can make and deliver content people want to see. No, any drop in attendance has to be because people are stealing their content.

Melissa Ruhl (profile) says:

Good job Internetites, once again

I think this is awesome. Once again, democratic pressure from Internet outrage made a tangible difference.

This reminds me of my alma mater, the University of Oregon, which was indebted to Disney for its mascot, a relationship that has before inflamed into controversy when the UO admin freaked out that some fans used the mascot in a video. Disney and the admin became such a source of ridicule and the viral video couldn’t be stopped that in 2010 Disney and the UO made a more reasonable agreement.

TechDirt on the issue: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20091120/1627157035.shtml
The original video:
http://youtu.be/_hrjpe1VCNg
UO and Disney making a new agreement:
http://www.oregonlive.com/sports/index.ssf/2010/03/disney_uo_mascot_part_ways.html

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: the price

> they could have chosen to license for free, and avoided the entire mess while giving them firm footing on the high road…

There is a thing in law that a payment as small as One Dollar would be significant enough to seal the deal. If they were really smart there would be a big party at the Hobbit on opening night hosted by the studio.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

There needs to be a phrase, along the lines of The Streisand Effect, to describe IP bullies who see the error of their ways, even if through bad publicity, and come back from the dark side to be one of the good guys again. Some kind of positive connotation that rewards them with good will for changing their minds. Like a merit badge.

Dare I coin The Hobbit Effect? Nah, there must be something better. What should it be? Hey Mike, why not start a contest?

k-h (profile) says:

Re: Re:

>come back from the dark side to be one of the good guys again.

What? They haven’t come back from the dark side:

>”When it’s an established business, we like to get the company to acknowledge they are using our trademarks, stop selling infringing articles and then we will grant them a licence for a nominal fee – approximately $100 a year.”

They’ve just realised they’ve been sprung in an embarassing position and are trying to pretend they are not as bad as everyone thinks. I thought the pub was selling drinks – how are drinks “infringing articles”? What are these trademarks? The name hobbit?

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