Hobbit Actors Stephen Fry & Ian McKellen Pay License For Hobbit Pub

from the nice-of-them dept

Remember the Hobbit pub in the UK that was threatened with legal action from the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) for infringing on the supposed rights SZC held in the Hobbit movie? The bad publicity resulted in SZC offering up a cheapo license, and now two of the actors appearing in The Hobbit movie — the hugely popular Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen — have said that they’ll pay the license fee for the pub. Both actors had spoken out pretty early on about their disgust over the moviemakers bullying the pub this way, with Fry going so far as to apologize for his industry’s actions. Taking it even further by agreeing to pay the license is certainly a nice gesture and shows (yet again) the value of actually connecting (and being human and awesome). It still amazes me that so many companies don’t recognize how badly these kinds of things will backfire.

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Companies: saul zaentz company

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Comments on “Hobbit Actors Stephen Fry & Ian McKellen Pay License For Hobbit Pub”

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58 Comments
Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

It also shows a true lack of marketing acumen.

Instead of suing why did they not co-op the pub for marketing purposes.
Like holding a new trailer screening there or a meet the actors party.
It would have gotten them a ton of free publicity. There would have been stories all over the world talking about the movie, the actors, about how cool it was that the trailer was being first shown at The Hobbit pub. All kinds of things. Then in the back ground they could have said to the pub we will give you a license to use the name in perpetuity but only you.

My thoughts are that there are too many times when the lawyers are creating fear in the higher-ups so that they can get billable hours.

Rob says:

Re: It also shows a true lack of marketing acumen.

You’re absolutely correct. The positive hype would have been off the charts, and the added revenue generated probably easily would have covered the loss of a “license” issue that was sketchy to begin with. Be thebad guy and you have to bully people out of their money. Be the good guy and they’ll just hand it over.

Rob says:

Re: It also shows a true lack of marketing acumen.

You’re absolutely correct. The positive hype would have been off the charts, and the added revenue generated probably easily would have covered the loss of a “license” issue that was sketchy to begin with. Be thebad guy and you have to bully people out of their money. Be the good guy and they’ll just hand it over.

Strepsi says:

Re: Defending trademark It also shows a true lack of marketing acumen.

Well, here’s the problematic thing about trademark law: if you own a trademark, you HAVE TO defend it, or you could lose it. If your opponents can show that you let your trademark become public usage, you can not hold it. What a of people don’t realize is that legally you must send a cease-and-desist. HOWEVER — you are absolutely correct that it could have been done quietly, with an offer, and the marketing department could have absorbed the pub completely as “experiential marketing” and nearly-free PR. When you think that for marketing the film alone they will spend 100 to 200 MILLION dollars, milking a small pub owner remains assholish.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

All allegedly infringing material.

There have been plenty of images of both The Hobbit and LOTR over the years which this pub may have that have nothing at all to do with this movie.

For example calendars by The Brothers Hildebrandt and some with art by Tolkien himself. If these have been there for years and no one has complained of infringement why should they get rid of them? They predate the upcoming movie and have nothing at all to do with it. I don’t see any infringement on the movie with any of that.

The strange thing is you’d think that if there was ACTUAL infringement either the producers of the LOTR movies or Tolkien’s estate would have chased it down long before now.

The whole thing is a crock of smelly cat litter.

Anonymous Coward says:

At least the landlady seems to have her head in the right place:
“Until everything is in black and white, on paper, we’re going to be a bit reserved because it could be $100 this year and $20,000 next year.

They have said to us they will offer us a licence to trade, but we don’t know whether it means trading as The Hobbit, whether we still have to get rid of all our artwork, cocktail names, everything. We just don’t know what’s entailed.”

The problem isn’t really the price (although she’s right to say that they could just milk them every year if she doesn’t fight it) – it’s that having the license means accepting the terms, and the terms are likely to be quite strict.

If it was just a case of “Give us ?65 and you can carry on as before forever” I’d have paid the damn fee, but things never work out like that.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Oh how true your comment is. The thing is in the goddamn PUBLIC DOMAIN. Why should they pay any cent? Sure they’ve been around for 20 years but has it really caused any harm to Mr Tolkien. And we haven’t seen either John or Christopher going after small pubs either. But none of this matters right now because it’s PUBLIC DOMAIN.

Stick your license in your arse, please mr Z.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Though the copyrights on the books are still in place I’d agree that you would think that John or Christopher would have gone after them by now if it was a serious issue in these little pubs.

It’s still all crap. a serious and silly overreach by the producers of a film I WAS looking forward to seeing in an actual movie theatre. WAS.

Now I’m not to sure.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

It’s SZC they started out on the wrong track but they muzzled their lawyers and backed off quickly. $100 a year is strictly nominal and just about as free as possible (business to business) without losing the rights like happened to Calvin and Hobbes and Monopoly. Further criticism at this point amounts to not recognizing SZC’s IP at all. This blog is about reforming IP and not destroying it, and it has never been as hard on trademarks as other IP, so SZC should get credit for their voluntary reform, even if it was prompted by bad publicity.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The Only IP SZC has is limited on what is specifically unique about the actual film(s) they control and not on anything else since the Works are in the Public Domain.

Which means the name “The Hobbit”, the visuals from original books, the characters et.al are all fair game and since the actual publicans have been trading on this for over 20yrs which is more than the films can say, they could have a counter claim on trademark having to do with sale of beverages and/or licensed entertainment premises within the UK/EU.

No license should of been payed for, no matter how much it was, unless that licence is nominally ONLY for unique images in the actual IP SZC actually control and nothing else.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

No, it is still life+70 years.

The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 extended these terms to life of the author plus 70 years and for works of corporate authorship to 120 years after creation or 95 years after publication, whichever endpoint is earlier.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyright_Term_Extension_Act

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

No, it is still life+70 years.

I stand corrected. However, I am not a lawyer, and the sad point is that I really shouldn’t need to be to understand copyright. There are way too many variables. It is interesting, however, that if I write a book today, and get it published a couple years from now, and then die, I have less time to capitalize on copyright than a company who hires me to write a book (and then die.) Not that dying is something I plan to do…

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

In the US or the UK?

And this is where copyright shows its magic, isn’t it.

In England, copyright (since 1955) was author’s life+70 years. Tolkien died in 1973, which means the work is unavailable until 2043.

Just be thankful he didn’t live in the US, where, if he played his cards right and Disney keeps at it, copyright will likely never expire.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually all SZC needs to do to protect it’s copyright on the movie is charge $1 a year.

Part of the criticism is that the name “The Hobbit” and the accompanying story has been licensed to SZC by Tolkien’s estate and isn’t really theirs at all except as it relates to the movie. If it’s trade mark just how in heaven does even a moron in a hurry mistake a pub for a movie?

Yes, they do deserve credit for backing off and muzzling their lawyers. But the point is that they don’t have all the IP surrounding LoTR or The Hobbit just for their movie. Everything else is Tolkien’s estate and it doesn’t look like they’ve ever complained.

Anonymous Coward says:

It’s a pretty normal idea. The actors don’t make anything on licensing (or maybe only a little) but they do make on the promotion of their likeness and name via things like this.

It’s nothing more than self-marketing, stepping up and finding a positive line in a difficult situation. It’s not unusual for performers to seek the camera.

Stephan (profile) says:

“It still amazes me that so many companies don’t recognize how badly these kinds of things will backfire.”

It still amazes me that so many people think that such behaviour will actually backfire (in a significant way).

It won’t. How many cases are there where such behaviour actually made a difference? The truth is: Even though there may be an outrage among some groups, there are still more then enough who will buy the product, see the movie etc. People are fast with condemning companies, but when it comes to their real life behaviour, most of that is usually forgotten.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It matters more and more all the time. We’re better able to communicate, organize, boycott, overthrow, revise, and disseminate information than ever before thanks to the internet.

Look at the governments overthrown with the help of technology.
Look at SOPA being bashed into the ground thanks to the internet.
Look at Mass Effect 3’s ending being ‘clarified’ (rewritten) after fan backlash (which has supposedly caused a huge drop in sales after the first weekend, though that’s hearsay on my part).

Anonymous Coward says:

The ridiculous thing about this is that if the company doesn’t protect it’s rights, it loses them. Then there would be potentially thousands of pubs named “The Hobbit”. If you don’t defend your trademarks, the argument can be made that you have abandonded the mark and allow EVERYONE to use it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the above scenario happened I imagine the only confusion would be over which of the “thousands of pubs” would be “endorsed” by SZC or whatever, after which the fight might be between said thousands of pubs.

This still really doesn’t explain the ridiculous suggestion that any confusion between the movie and the pub would result.

Robert P (profile) says:

Backfired?

While I think SZC was dumb suing the bar, how has this really backfired for them? Will they make fewer movies? Will people not go to see their movies? Are they having to pay someone as a result of this activity? Yeah, they got some bad press (from people who are aware of this at all) but what else?

BTW, serious question, not rhetoric. Has there actually been any repercussions to their actions?

BentFranklin (profile) says:

Re: Backfired?

Even though I’d rather not boycott this particular product, boycotts in general are 100% effective dollar-for-dollar in their impact even if they don’t change their targets’ behavior. They are much more effective than voting, where there are all sorts of ways in which votes become totally ineffective. So if you vote, then by all means vote with your dollars even if no one notices.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Backfired?

Well, I for one will certainly NOT support SZC’s outrageous behaviour by going out to watch their movie. It’s unthinkable!

I wasn’t going to watch the movie anyway, because I’m just not interestet, no matter how many Stephen Frys (whom I admire even though he’s ‘beginning’ to take himself a bit too serious) they throw into the bargain. But NOW I’m not going to watch it because of their actions.

Makes all the difference in the world.

V (profile) says:

Good... and bad... and... ugly...

Personally, I think it’s great that Ian and Stephen put on their big boy pants and stepped in to stop a bully.

Sadly, this means that the outrage from this type of extortion bullying will diminish and die away.

As a previous poster pointed out, this Pub has been in existence for over 20 years and somehow, I think they’d be hard pressed to prove that there was ANY affect on book or movie sales.

In fact, quite the opposite.

Plus… copyright is on a single expression of an idea. Somehow… I don’t remember there being a BAR in any of Tolkein’s books called “The Hobbit”. Nor do I remember any drinks called Gandalf, Frodo or Gollum in any Tolkein literature.

As far as using likenesses… last I checked, there were no “publicity” rights in Britian… so if they bought a photo… what exactly would be the law against displaying it? Or, if the licensed a photo of the actors from something like BigStock… the violation is… where?

Robert Scott Lawrence (profile) says:

A Victory for Hobbits Everywhere

A savvy move by Zaentz to offer the pub a cheap license and a stand-up play by Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen to pay it. Even if trademark owners are required to police their marks, threatening to sue the pub was a poorly conceived idea at best. Now I can happily remember Zaentz as the genius who brought us Cuckoo’s Nest without having to add a disclaimer under my breath.

Long live The Hobbit!

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