Warner Bros. And Tolkien Estate Send Orc Armies To Kill Off Kickstarter For Real-Life Hobbit House

from the hobbit-you-try-being-nice-for-a-change? dept

Anyone who has been reading here for any appreciable amount of time is likely already aware that the Tolkien Estate, representing the family of JRR Tolkien, watches over the world to seek out even the barest possibilities for intellectual property issues concerning the dead author, and then pounces on them with its horde of legal armies. The estate has even gone so far as to suggest that simply mentioning the author’s name on a button constitutes infringement. The Tolkien Estate doesn’t produce anything of public value, mind you. Nor does JRR Tolkien, who is a dead person. Instead, the estate simply nixes out any unauthorized references to the author or his famous Lord of the Rings works, for reasons I can’t really comprehend.

What’s frustratingly interesting about these stories is the bone-breaking stretching the estate goes to just to claim some kind of infringement. The latest example of this is the Tolkien Estate and Warner Bros. forcing a couple to eighty-six their Kickstarter campaign to build a “Hobbit House” on their campsite.

Last month Jan and Ed Lengyel decided to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the Hobbit house they’re building at their Suffolk countryside campsite. The married couple are running a successful holiday ‘glamping‘ (glamorous camping) business and thought the idyllic location would be very suitable for small house inspired by the popular movie.

Following a complaint from Warner Bros. the Kickstarter campaign was pulled offline without warning. The movie studio didn’t want the couple to use Hobbit references arguing that they infringe on their copyrights and trademarks. Faced with the sudden removal the Suffolk couple saw no other option than to give in to the demands and started editing the page.

Those edits revised the project to be called “Poddit Hole” instead of “Hobbit House,” and altered the setting for the house as existing in “Centre-Earth” instead of “Middle Earth.” Those seem like changes that are somewhat significant while still paying homage to the Tolkien works. And that’s when the Tolkien Estate stepped in, claiming that the changes were still too close to “Hobbit” and “Middle Earth” and would have to be changed further. In a bit of poetry, lawyers from the Tolkien Estate insisted that the couple refrain from using names or words that rhyme with “Hobbit.”

“The Tolkien Estate has asked us not to use ‘Poddit Hole’, which is absolutely ridiculous. We have got to call the project something, what would they like us to call it?” Ed Lengyel tells Daily Mail. “Even though we have bent over backwards to meet their demands they are still wanting more,” she adds.

I’ll say a couple of things about this. To start, I’m not entirely clear on what copyright claim either Warner Bros. or the Tolkien Estate has grounds to make. My understanding is that the house isn’t constructed to be identical to any dwelling in the films, so that isn’t it. Instead, the claim appears to rest on the copyright Tolkien’s estate claims on the word “Hobbit,” while the trademark does the same for both that word and “Middle Earth.” For the trademarks, I’m not clear on exactly when Warner Bros. or the Tolkien Estate got into the recreational camping business. If they haven’t, I’m not exactly sure where the customer confusion or competition is supposed to come in to play. As for the copyright claim on the race known as “Hobbits,” it’s not exactly a secret that the word existed prior to Tolkien’s use of it (although with an entirely different meaning), nor is it obscure knowledge that Tolkien himself based his race of Hobbits off of other fictional work. A copyright claim needs to follow specific characters or expression. Simply mentioning the fictional race as inspiration for a camp dwelling would require stretching to meet the level of copyright infringement.

And the final point, of course, is that damn it all of this should be in the public domain by now. Were it not for the extensions to copyright that occurred decades after Tolkien put pen to paper, we wouldn’t even have to be discussing any of this. Of course, nothing goes into the public domain any more.

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Companies: tolkien estate, warner bros.

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Comments on “Warner Bros. And Tolkien Estate Send Orc Armies To Kill Off Kickstarter For Real-Life Hobbit House”

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42 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

And the final point, of course, is that damn it all of this should be in the public domain by now. Were it not for the extensions to copyright that occurred decades after Tolkien put pen to paper, we wouldn’t even have to be discussing any of this. Of course, nothing goes into the public domain any more.

Copyright subsisted for life of the author plus fifty years at the time of Tolkien’s death in 1973, so even under that law, his works would still be protected for a few more years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Watch out MUME

MUME.org had better watch out. Sure it’s been around for 24 years, has thousands of players and all that, but it definitely makes ample use of hobbits and Middle Earth.

If nobody’s going after MUME because of the huge backlash that would ensue (considering the amount of investment put into MUME dwarfs both the original books AND the new movies combined), it raises the question: Why go after anyone for doing this kind of thing, online or offline?

Anonymous Coward says:

BOO HOO! Sobbit, you ORCS! Are you 13-year-olds really concerned that TRITE schtick of "glamping" in a "hobbit-hole" will be stopped? That's GOOD!

Yet again, copyright has benefits far beyond that those who make the products get due reward. In this case, stops stupidity from spreading without limit.

You don’t even grasp that YOU are the hordes of orcs blinded by and held in thrall by Sauron Of Hollywood which has you addicted to stupid entertainments, while Gandalf and I tell you to STOP stealing other people’s stuff and START building your own. — If Hollywood / MPAA / RIAA had to rely on me even to steal their crap, they’d collapse overnight.


Topic and quip I mentioned yesterday. It’s easy to spot the drivel that Techdirt will run.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: BOO HOO! Sobbit, you ORCS! Are you 13-year-olds really concerned that TRITE schtick of "glamping" in a "hobbit-hole" will be stopped? That's GOOD!

You really should get some mental help. Your rantings are continually declining in any level of coherency, and you no longer even seem cognizant of what article you are commenting on. Seriously, get help.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: BOO HOO! Sobbit, you ORCS! Are you 13-year-olds really concerned that TRITE schtick of "glamping" in a "hobbit-hole" will be stopped? That's GOOD!

I’m curious. Do you think this kind of rant changes anyone’s mind about the subject at hand, or do you realise people are laughing at you and wonder at what kind of sad individual does this for entertainment? If the former, you are mistaken.

By the way, I found this particularly amusing:

“I tell you to STOP stealing other people’s stuff and START building your own”

Nothing’s being “stolen” here, and the people in the article are building their own thing. They just happen to be using existing works as inspiration. You know, like Hollywood does constantly.

Try picking arguments that aren’t at least equally applicable to your heroes. You won’t given that you somehow think that childish name-calling is a valid debate tactic, but do try to keep that thought somewhere while you’re drooling.

“If Hollywood / MPAA / RIAA had to rely on me even to steal their crap, they’d collapse “

So, you obsessively defend those people with lies and childish tantrums, and you don’t even have a stake as small as their continued production capability to inspire you? You’re even more pathetic than I realised.

Anonymous Coward says:

The Unfortunate Case of Misapplied Angst

The real problem here is that it is JRR himself who ends up with the angst against him (even though he has left this mortal coil and has taken up the Doom of Men).

His son Chris is the real culprit in all of this. His attempt of elevating his father to an untouchable status has led to all sorts of problems. I somehow suspect that JRR would have no problem with all of his work being in the public domain. However, the appearance is that Chris has made it a religious activity to preserve the “sanctity” of his father’s words and writings.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Halfling was created by Gary Gygax for his Dungeons & Dragons RPG for precisely the reason that “Hobbit” was trademarked by Tolkien. Tolkien, for his part, was quite disappointed that he couldn’t copyright any of the other mythological creatures he used in The Hobbit/TLoTR, since the names had existed for quite a long while, but Hobbit is a portmanteau of human+rabbit (small, furry feet, live in burrows, laze around, eat a lot).

Jason says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Tolkien, for his part, was quite disappointed that he couldn’t copyright any of the other mythological creatures he used in The Hobbit/TLoTR…”

Do you have a reference for that? I’ve read pretty much everything that Tolkien ever wrote and I don’t recall seeing any mention of that being a concern. (It may well be/have been a concern for the “Tolkien Estate” and the legal entities that now control his work, but that’s a different problem.) There were some copyright-related issues when a US publisher started printing unauthorized editions in America prior to their “official” publication, but beyond that I’m not aware of any other problems of that nature. I’m not saying that there definitely weren’t any, only that I can’t recall ever seeing any indication in anything I’ve read.

Tolkien’s biggest concern always seemed to be getting his work published in the first place.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Tolkien, for his part, was quite disappointed that he couldn’t copyright any of the other mythological creatures he used in The Hobbit/TLoTR”

I very much doubt that Tolkien was personally interested or involved with any such thing. Unless you have a citation that he and not his publisher, agent, estate or other third party was responsible for registering the copyright?

techflaws (profile) says:

Anyone who has been reading here for any appreciable amount of time is likely already aware that the Tolkien Estate, representing the family of JRR Tolkien, watches over the world to seek out even the barest possibilities for intellectual property issues concerning the dead author, and then pounces on them with its horde of legal armies.

No shit! Being a huge fan (until I saw the movies that is) I had registered tolkien.com for years and used it as my primary email address. Then, a year or so before the first movie, which was promoted on lordoftherings.net, mind you, I got a cease and desist order (nicely forwarded from their lawyers to German lawyers doubling costs for me) to hand over the domain to them.

The only reason I gave in was that my last name actually is not Tolkien. However, I managed to shorten the bill significantly by signing over the domain to them instead of just giving it up (which was all they could legally force me to) thereby stopping the next in line from grabbing it and turning this into a whack-a-mole game for them.

Still, f*ck Christopher and his ilk.

andy says:

court

Maybe everyone involved in the collection of money for this camp should individually attempt to copyright various Tolkien words, and when the estate decides to sue them all it would go bankrupt from legal fees for starting so many court cases, or the courts could see that the public is not impressed with the Tolkien estate and start treating them the same way they treat the trolls like Preda…

Seeing that Tolkien’s work is due to be in the public domain very soon i suggest the Tolkien estate keep quiet so they can continue to make money of their dead relative for as long as possible, cases like this just put the spotlight on how soon they lose this moneymaking scam..

Anonymous Coward says:

Hobbits: A class of spirits
Page 388 The Denham Tracts 1895

Hence a “hobbit house” would be a house in which a certain class of spirits reside.

Nothing at all to do with Tolkien.

But what can you expect from Warner Brothers. First, it has become readily apparant they stole “Happy Birthday” from the public domain, and now this.

Jason says:

Re: Re:

I think that’s a bit harsh. Without Christopher Tolkien’s efforts we wouldn’t have The Silmarillion (late 70s) or the History of Middle-earth series (80s & 90s), which encompass a large part of Tolkien’s writing.

I don’t agree with every aspect of his handling of the material, necessarily, but I don’t know of very many other people that have gone on that kind of literary undertaking.

Vince says:

My thoughts exactly

I just read about the case you mentioned. I agree with you 100%..You might not agree with what I’m about to say though,
What they are doing is just ridiculous. In playing their game, I should sue them for behaving like dicks around the name Middle Earth which is directly derived from the Swedish Midgård, viking lore, the land of the gods. Yup.
In this quarrel I feel like they flap their tweekles on the bare heads of my ancestors and it insults my heritage. Go, tell ’em, lawyerrr.
“Now rename all references to Middle Earth, and don’t even think about picking anything that rhymes..”

…While I’m not really AS ridiculous as them(I might come close though), and don’t truly feel they insult MY heritage, I do truly feel they insult J. Tolkien’s heritage. Shame on both the estate and Warner for keeping this up. The estate we already know as morons but they can afford to keep it up. Warner on the other hand should withdraw their hordes if they don’t want to lose precious fan respect.

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