Scientist Refused Permission To Call Hominids 'Hobbits', Even Though Word First Used In Print In 1895 -- And Not By Tolkien

from the always-check-your-sources dept

Techdirt has written before about the aggressive enforcement habits of the Tolkien estate, once in connection with the name "Tolkien", and once regarding the word "Hobbit". Looks like they're at it again, down in New Zealand:

Victoria University's Brent Alloway has organised a free public lecture on Homo floresiensis, a species closely related to humans which lived on Flores Island, but has been told he is not allowed to call the free public lecture 'The Other Hobbit'.

The volcanologist wrote to the estate of Hobbit author JRR Tolkein about the event on December 1 as a courtesy, but was told by Wellington lawyers AJ Park representing the estate that he was not allowed to use the word.
That's pretty ridiculous from many viewpoints. First, this is a free public lecture from a scientist -- not a commercial use of any kind. Secondly, the hominids in question have been called "hobbits" by the scientific community almost since their discovery in 2004, so this is a very well-established usage. Finally -- and most interestingly -- over on Twitter, Chris Puttick pointed out that Tolkien wasn't even the first to use the term "hobbit" in this sense:
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.
Since the book appeared in 1895, and Denham died in 1859, that would seem to place all of its text – and hence the creature known as a "hobbit" - in the public domain. I wonder what the Tolkien Estate will say to that?

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Filed Under: copyright, free speech, hobbits, science, tolkien

Reader Comments

The First Word

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  1. icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), 26 Oct 2012 @ 1:35pm

    Re: What is this, Hobbit Day?

    We're talking about the cultural tropes of heros and epics here. There are throughlines not just to Beowulf, but to things much much older like Homer's epics and the Epic of Gilgamesh. It is a real shame that, in your desire to bicker about culture, you have completely failed to grasp the rich, moving, aeon-spanning oneness of it all, and are missing out on the profound sense of beauty that understanding leads to the world and human existence.

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