Hollywood Bigwigs Sue The Hobbit Pub In England For Copyright Infringement

tehhobbitz

(BBC)

When J.R.R. Tolkien wove his tales of hobbits, elves, wizards, orcs and the triumph of good over evil, he probably didn’t think that greedy Hollywood types would one day go after a cozy English pub that celebrates Middle Earth. But that’s just what one company is doing — suing The Hobbit in Southampton, England for copyright infringement.

BBC News says the lawyers for the California company that owns the rights to several brands tied to Tolkien, including The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, is demanding the pub remove all traces of its 20-year-old hobbit heritage. Currently on the menu are cocktails name for characters like Frodo and Gandalf.

A letter from the lawyers says it has “exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, stage and other rights in certain literary works of JRR Tolkien including The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.”

Says the landlady: “We were absolutely stunned. It was completely unexpected, we never intended to infringe anyone’s copyright. Are we doing any harm? I don’t think so. We’re bringing people to the books and the stories who haven’t heard of JRR Tolkien,” adding, “We don’t have the financial resources to fight it — I can’t fight Hollywood.”

Okay, Elijah Wood. It’s up to you to stop this insanity. Take the lawsuit and throw it in Mount Doom.

Hobbit pub in Southampton threatened with legal action [BBC News]

Comments

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  1. May contain snark says:

    Nasty little Hollywood executivesses.

    • pegr says:

      Actually, the issue is trademark, not copyright. You cannot copyright a title or a character name. You can, however, trademark them. Now the issue is, does the use of the trademarked term cause “confusion” in the mind of the patron? There is a strong case that is does.

      You’d think that the lawyers would be smarter than to kick up this kind of a fuss, but remember, lawyers don’t work for the best interest of their clients. They work for their fees.

    • winstonthorne says:

      We told you they was tricksy.

    • fsnuffer says:

      If they don’t defend their trademark, they loose it. They don’t want to sue but they have to.

      • dyzlexiK says:

        They have the option to give them a license at some low fee. Ever see companies giving $1 licensing fees?

  2. mister_roboto says:

    I used to live in Davis CA, and most of the neighborhoods had themes to their names- There’s a Middle Earth neighborhood:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?q=davis+ca+evenstar&hl=en&ll=38.547676,-121.779263&spn=0.004064,0.005681&hnear=Evenstar+Ln,+Davis,+Yolo,+California+95616&gl=us&t=h&z=18

    I’m sure they lawyers are going to try to take those sign posts next.

  3. Hungry Dog says:

    Clearly Hollywood is the victim here. Think of all the tens of dollars that this establishment is taking away from the franchise. Frankly I’m glad the big man can stand up to the little man like this.

    • framitz says:

      I suspect it’s not tens of dollars, but tenths of dollars in this case as they take nothing away from the copyright holder.

      • jefeloco says:

        Let’s at least call it what it is when describing what those horrible small time pub operators are stealing from the group: Pence.

    • VashTS says:

      I like the way you think, lets go after all those folks are made their car black and called it Kitt….I see lots of lawsuits, I like it…..lolI like the way you think, lets go after all those folks are made their car black and called it Kitt….I see lots of lawsuits, I like it…..lol

    • quirkyrachel says:

      “..tens of dollars…” Snort.

  4. Martha Gail says:

    I kind of hope the stars of the movies band together to shame the movie execs.

  5. RandomLetters says:

    I expect Her Majesty’s foot to soon be kicking some Hollywood Bigwig butt. Want to make another James Bond film? Oh we’re so dreadfully sorry but the names of all those organizations and roles within said organizatons are no longer avaiable for use… in fact we’d like royalties on thier previous use…

    • sirwired says:

      “Her majesty’s foot” isn’t going to do anything. The rights to Ian Fleming’s characters have already been paid for; I doubt they can be withdrawn.

      • Ragora says:

        I believe the implication being that Her Majesty could deny them the use of MI6, which is equally unlikely, but makes for a nice mental image.

  6. eturowski says:

    Seriously? The Hobbit was written in 1937. Tolkien had a cult following even before Hollywood peed on LotR. LET IT GO, ALREADY!

    Stupid capitalism. It’s ludicrous that a company can purchase exclusive rights to a franchise that is 75 years old and obtain a monopoly over characters that it didn’t even create.

    • az123 says:

      So if the original owners of the rights had not ever sold them would it be fine for them to go after the place about this?

      IP / Franchise ownership is property, which is how anyone who creates it gets to own the rights and ensure you can make your money off it. There would be no value to anyone if once you sold it the new owners could not legally protect it.

      Keep in mind that the laws that allow this to happen with a big company are the same ones that protect the little guy who comes up with the story. If this was not in place hollywood could just steal any idea they want and never pay the little guy for anything.

      There is good and bad to everything

      • coffee100 says:

        >> If this was not in place hollywood could just steal any idea they want and never pay the little guy for anything.

        I see you are new to Hollywood.

        • Not Given says:

          They regularly sue each other to decide whose name is first or if there is an ‘and’ or a ‘&’ between the names in the credits.

          • zz9 says:

            “and” means the two writers worked separately, one wrote a script and then the studio asked the other to write a new draft. “&” between two names means the two worked together and wrote one script. It makes a big difference to what they get paid and to residuals.
            I can’t see writers ever actually suing for that because it is such a fundamental matter of fact. It’s not like the studio just deciding it. In fact it is the writers union that makes all the final decisions on credits.

    • fortymegafonzies says:

      I agree, but it would be certainly be interesting to see what would happen if there were no exclusive rights. You might see three or four Hobbit (or Batman, Transformers, anything else really) movies from different studios all coming out at the same time, all claiming to be the “real” movie. That could be a good or bad thing I suppose.

      • natebum says:

        I say it be to good to have no infringement, if there are 4 batman movies at least we be able to pick a good one out of the bunch that doesn’t include christian bale and his dumb horse voice.

        • MattSaintCool says:

          DO I LOOK LIKE A GOOD ACTOR?!

        • RxDude says:

          Or Goerge Clooney. Or Val Kilmer.

        • jesusofcool says:

          I agree with this. Exclusive rights/trademark copyrighting in the case of works like this does nothing to benefit the consumer. Artistically, you’re getting the one version they’re allowed to put in front of you, rather than companies being forced to compete to make the best possible version.

  7. anime_runs_my_life says:

    If it was such a huge issue, wouldn’t have Tolkien’s estate have done something sooner before Hollywood got their nose bent out of shape?

    • caradrake says:

      This is what I was wondering. How long has Hollywood held the copyright? Are they legally allowed to go after someone for copyright infringement, that was created before they held copyright?

      I’m guessing yes, but this sucks. :(

      I don’t think that this pub is taking anything at all away from the movie or franchise.

      • Flakeloaf says:

        Except for the images of the actors from the Hollywood films on their website. That’s pretty obviously Viggo Mortenson on the Aragorn drink poster, and their Legolas looks an awful lot like Orlando Bloom.

        Nobody has a problem with their using Tolkien’s IP all this time because there was no infringement until the pub (or more likely, their publicist) cribbed from the movie to advertise their product.

      • Flakeloaf says:

        The pub certainly is taking something away from the movie – it’s using the images of the actors from the films, in characters, to promote itself. The Aragorn poster is pretty obviously Viggo Mortenson, and their Legolas looks an awful lot like Orlando Bloom.

        There was no copyright problem before the pub (or more likely their publicist) cribbed their promotional materials from someone else’s movie.

  8. Cat says:

    If it weren’t for that nasty Disneyses, wouldn’t this be “public domain” by now?

  9. Coleoptera Girl says:

    This makes me want to pirate The Hobbit movie instead of seeing it in theaters or purchasing it!

  10. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Sounds like the pub existed before hollywood got the rights. I think the pub has good legal grounds, but like they said no resources to fight it.

    • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

      That’s really not how it works, though.

      Let’s say you start selling a soft drink called “Pepsi” today.

      Tomorrow, I buy the rights to the Pepsi brand from Pepsico.

      Your soft drink existed before I had the rights to the name, but you’re still infringing on the rights.

      The rights themselves have existed for a long time. Before the movies were made, and before the pub opened.

      • Coleoptera Girl says:

        The only victory I think this pub can win is that people familiar with it will still call it “The Hobbit,” perhaps even to snub their noses at Hollywood.

      • sagodjur says:

        But you can’t copyright titles or character names, so unless the pub is photocopying Tolkien’s books and selling them or giving them away to customers, there’s not copyright infringement. I’m surprised they didn’t make trademark claims rather than copyright claims against the pub.

        • Random_Tangent says:

          But the pub is using imagery from the movie in the decor and advertising. Which is clear infringement and puts the Saul Zaentz Company clearly in the right.

          • sirwired says:

            I’m with you. The ignorance displayed on here for how licensing rights work is astounding. I expected one or two dissenting souls; not near-unanimous ignorance.

            This is a not-at-all subtle infringement of rights for which perfectly good money has been paid (but not by these pub owners.)

          • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

            I’m sorry, but where in the Consumerist article or the linked original article do you find imagery from the film being used (with the exception of the loyalty card)? The signage? Um, I disagree – Tolkein was a nicely descriptive writer, and I’d say that signage is based on his descriptions of the characters, and (likely) the images created by artists over the years, such as John Howe. Of course, there’s going to be similarity – when the film versions were cast, it should surprise nobody that actors were chosen who were physically similar to the existing images and descriptions of the characters. But if there’s mention of the interior containing images from the film, then I sadly missed it.

            So, yes, the loyalty card is clear infringement, and yes, I think they have both a moral and legal right to pursue such. But it seems absurd to go after the pub the use of the character names (not legally absurd, because IANAL and cannot make that claim, but rather absurd from a reasonable person’s point of view).

        • kosmo @ The Soap Boxers says:

          “I’m surprised they didn’t make trademark claims rather than copyright claims against the pub.”

          I’m wondering if the article somehow has this wrong – because the company definitely has a ton of trademarks related to Lord of the Rings. I suspect that indeed it’s a trademark violation that’s being alleged.

        • Jawaka says:

          You can’t?

          So I can write a new book starring a wizard hero named Harry Potter?

  11. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    … So I expect we’ll be seeing The Halfling Pub? With Fredo and Dangolf cocktails?

  12. longfeltwant says:

    Copyright laws are way, way out of balance.

    Did these people print and sell full copies of any of Tolkein’s books? No? Well then they didn’t violate the kind of copyright that I support. To me, it sounds like they created a derivative work, which should not be a violation.

    • dolemite says:

      That’s what happens with lobbyists write our legislation for us. Politicians are too busy worrying about if women should have birth control coverage, abortions, and what religion/language we should all practice/speak.

      • Kate says:

        As much as I agree with you about that in general, you should notice that the pub is in England subject to their laws, not ours.

    • NeverLetMeDown says:

      So, do you think that you should be able to make a movie out of Lord of the Rings, without paying for the rights? How about I start selling Consumer Reports t-shirts?

    • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

      Before I say anything else, I want to clearly state that I think it is completely unreasonable of the Saul Zaentz Company to sue this pub and try to force them to change the name and remove any reference to the Hobbit franchise, and that I hope they lose their stupid lawsuit.

      All of that said, there may be a little tiny bit of merit to the company’s claim of infringement – the pub uses images of Elija Wood and Cate Blanchett on their loyalty cards, which *could* be seen as attempting to tie the pub to the film franchise. It’s such a small thing that I personally find the whole argument that this somehow devalues the franchise absurd, but there is that small grain of possibility.

      • HogwartsProfessor says:

        Then they can stop using the images. They don’t have to do that anyway. I’m sure there is probably a local artist who can create an image for them to use instead. Copyright does not preclude someone from drawing a picture of what they think Frodo or Galadriel look like.

        • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

          And I completely agree with you. They made a mistake using those images, and should discontinue doing so. Unfortunately, SZC seems to think that it’s a good idea to use a nuclear warhead to swat this particular fly.

          • moderndemagogue says:

            What the hell are you talking about? A nuclear weapon? Its a basic lawsuit. That is how companies interact, through lawyers. Exactly what else are they supposed to do? Send a 400lb guy over named Tiny with a baseball bat, and say that “they’re asking nicely?”

            No, you file suit.

            • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

              How about, write a letter stating we own those images and you should stop.

              Companies do that on YouTube and with other digital content all the time, and it results in the affected page going down, not the entire YouTube website.

              So this is a nuclear warhead lawsuit because they are asking for far more than is required.

  13. bhr says:

    The C&D is bullshit, if a company has used the name for that long without any complaint I think it’s too late to come after them. I can though understand the rightsholder wanted to make sure that they don’t start selling merchandise to benefit off the movie.

    Don’t, however, use this line “”We were absolutely stunned. It was completely unexpected, we never intended to infringe anyone’s copyright.” They were well aware that the Hobbit was someone else’s property as they did not randomly come up with a name but instead very specifically based the business on Tolkien’s work.

    I also want to note that one of my college bars of choice was a place called Gandalf’s. and I believe Peter Jackson was in some way responsible for it burning down a few years back.

  14. 2 Replies says:

    Suit should be thrown out.
    There’s NO WAY IN HELL anyone would confuse a pub in England for a mediocre story.

  15. birdieblue says:

    I’m honestly shocked that the Tolkien estate didn’t go after them years ago. I had been told they are notoriously litigation-happy and dogged about defending the copyright.

  16. madcatcasey says:

    I’m pretty sure the pub is named after that other hobbit, “Bobo”. Not the one from the movie. So no issue here…

  17. GoldVRod says:

    They should simply change one letter and call it The Bobbit. They could have a drink called Dildo.

  18. d0x360 says:

    This needs to be thrown out. They have been open far too long without complaint for this BS. Why does Hollywood suddenly care? Who’s it even hurting!?

  19. coffee100 says:

    The Internet, which if it does not consist of nearly every Lord of the Rings fan, certainly boasts a majority population which respects the story and characters even if they aren’t fans, should respond this way:

    Launch the largest Kickstarter campaign ever. Raise whatever amount is necessary (tens of millions or more) to hire the most epic law firm on the planet. Either stall this lawsuit forever OR buy a perpetual license for this pub to use Tolkien’s characters on its menu and signage.

    The entire time this is going on (years?), the studio will get so much negative publicity out of it they will have no choice but to agree or drop their suit.

    Done right, it will put a stop to stupid crap like this in the future.

    • Random_Tangent says:

      It’s not a studio, it’s the Saul Zaentz Company. Known for being litigious (and being very good at it, to boot). The pub is using imagery taken from the movie. That’s the reason there’s a lawsuit, not the name.

  20. sirwired says:

    This appears to be a pretty standard application of copyright and trademark law. Not at all evil or out-of-line. This isn’t like Monster at all…

    The pub is quite obviously going for a JRR Tolkien name with the drinks named after characters, etc.

    The company that currently owns the rights paid good money for them, and they are enforcing them, which is exactly what they paid the Tolkien estate for.

  21. miscellaneous_9 says:

    FTA:
    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.

    It sounds like actually using stuff from the film in it’s branding. Hard to say without seeing the loyalty card.

    Lastly, the only thing the article said had to be changed was: A letter from SZC asked it to remove all references to the characters.

    Either there is more to the story that isn’t being reported. Or Hollywood isn’t being the total dicks they normally are. They just want them to stop using the actual characters.

    • InsertPithyNicknameHere says:

      The video in the linked article actually shows the loyalty card. It does have an image of Elijah Wood as Frodo on one side and what appears to be Cate Blanchett as Galadriel on the reverse. However, the images of the characters on the signage and the names of the characters appear to be from the descriptions and names in the original Hobbit / Lord of the Rings series, not based specifically upon the characters as they appear in the film.

      So, the only item we know is used from the film is the loyalty card (the pub name, pub signage, and drink names are not from the film, they are from the original source material). Not having been in the pub, I don’t know if there are additional film images used in the interior decoration (certainly none are shown in the linked video).

  22. rockelscorcho says:

    Hollywood, or any large corporation, need to stop sticking their dicks everywhere. This shit is getting old.

  23. Kuri says:

    That pub is a little guy, so an easy target for them. They wouldn’t so readily go after say, a chain of them.

  24. Kestris says:

    The big question is- did Hollywood acquire the rights 21 years ago and if so, what exactly do those rights give them in terms of branding.

    If they didn’t acquire the rights BEFORE the pub was opened, I don’t think a judge is going to agree with them on this matter.

  25. ThyGoddess says:

    There’s actually a bistro here in Quebec City called Le Hobbit. I wonder if they’re gonna get the copyright nazis too.

  26. wheeitsme says:

    So when are they going after UC Irvine?

    http://www.housing.uci.edu/me/hall_Desc.asp

  27. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    And we’re supposed to respect copyright when it’s abused like this?

    Lawyers, bankers, politicians; bleeding Regular Joes dry since the beginning of time.

  28. shufflemoomin says:

    Why is this news? Haven’t people learned by now? If companies want to protect a trademark by law, they have to enforce it, whether it’s a good idea or not. You’re violating copyright, you’ve been told to stop, do what’s being asked and move on.

  29. BorkBorkBork says:

    You wouldn’t download a pub…

  30. eezy-peezy says:

    Is this from the same people who tried to trade mark the name “Hollywood”, despite the fact that Hollywood, FL, existed before the one in CA?

    We used to have a Middle Earth music hall in a nearby town but it closed. Guess they would have been next to be sued.

  31. Lisse24 says:

    In my neighborhood we have a cozy little restaurant called “Bilbo Baggins.” There are cute little hobbit paintings on the wall, too. If this starts a trend and threatens my restaurant, I will be sad:(

    • Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

      I thought the same thing about this little Old Town gem when I read this story. I hope they are safe from Holllywood and their rapacious blood sucking lawyers.

  32. scurvycapn says:

    This website should change its tagline.

    THE CONSUMERIST
    Where shoppers don’t know the difference between copyright and trademark

    “However the word “Hobbit” is a trademark owned by the Tolkien estate. For this reason Dungeons & Dragons and other fantasy games most often refer to hobbit-like creatures by another name, most commonly as halflings, a term sometimes used to refer to hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.” – From Wikipedia

    I find it odd that the Tolkien estate did not act on this long ago. Either they were clueless of its existence or they didn’t care. However, when the rights for distribution, etc. are licensed to another company, that company can pursue legal avenues if they feel that someone may be benefiting from the property that they have paid money to license.

    • Lisse24 says:

      Probably because the Tolkien estate recognizes that such establishments do nothing but garner love for the books, introduce them to a new generation of readers and in no way steal money out of their pocket?

  33. farker says:

    Hope they don’t find out about Hobbit Cafe in Houston…

  34. ScytheNoire says:

    This is not how copyright is suppose to work.
    Corporations are out of control abusing copyright, and just because they have more money, they get away with this bullying and abuse.
    Governments are suppose to be about protecting individuals rights, not corporations.
    Our governments have failed us. It’s time for a revolution.

  35. thomwithanh says:

    Just like Disney going after the daycare center with Mickey, Minnie, Pooh and other Disney characters painted on the interior walls for the kids.

  36. Judah says:

    I’d be all for the pub normally, but it is directly using images from the movie trilogy on it’s website and menus. If say it hired it’s own custom artist or studio, then great, but it lifted scenes and content directly from the LOTR movies and is profiting from them.

  37. Greyfox2401 says:

    there is a sub division in springfield illinois that has LoTR names…oops

  38. pika2000 says:

    “oh noes, the big man is bullying the little man again. stop. but I’m going to watch the movie anyway and give money to the big man.”
    :rolleyes:

  39. moderndemagogue says:

    So, some people steal Tolkein’s intellectual property 20 years ago, an entertainment company purchases the worldwide rights in their entirety, finds out about infringement, and its the entertainment company’s fault?

    You guys are nuts ‚Äî if they don’t defend their trademarks, they can lose the rights to them, and just because an entity is not causing “much” harm, or even helping, it does not give them justification to continue operating what has been, and is, a fundamentally illegal business.

  40. 8bithero says:

    I’m glad they are doing this. I almost confused this bar with the movie…

  41. yabdor says:

    Laches?

    An “unreasonable delay pursuing a right or claim…in a way that prejudices the [opposing] party” When asserted in litigation, it is an equitable defense, or doctrine. The person invoking laches is asserting that an opposing party has “slept on its rights,” and that, as a result of this delay, circumstances have changed such that it is no longer just to grant the plaintiff’s original claim. Put another way, failure to assert one‚Äôs rights in a timely manner can result in a claim being barred by laches.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laches_%28equity%29

    • Free Legal Advice! says:

      Now that’s a good analysis. I’m not an IP lawyer, but if I recall from law school years ago, laches is uasully used to defend claims against real property (land). It is a denfese in adverse possession cases.

  42. vorpalette says:

    Oh wtf. Up by my grandparents house, there’s a Loth Lorien Lane (although it’s misspelled), and we have a restaurant here called Bilbo’s, a Hobbit-themed pizza place.

  43. Flakeloaf says:

    This has nothing to do with Tolkien’s IP and everything to do with the films the execs are protecting. I think the **AAs are bullies too but a visit to the pub’s website will show you why they’re upset. Using snaps from the movies and pictures of the actors depicting LOTR characters is out-of-bounds.

  44. fsnuffer says:

    If you don’t defend a trademark, you loose it. That is why Disney will sue a girl scout troupe if they try to use Minnie’s image. They don’t want to, they have to.

  45. Alliance to Restore the Republic of the United States of America says:

    No matter how you cut it, what lawyerly language or cold law you use to twist it, this is and will always be just plain wrong and everyone knows it down in their heart. If they have one.

  46. ToddMU03 says:

    I hope they don’t find out about Bilbo Baggins in Old Town Alexandria.

  47. Dallas_shopper says:

    Ridiculous, vindictive, and unnecessary.

  48. Misha says:

    SZC had a successful suit against a sandwich shop called “The Hungry Hobbit” back in November. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-15825960

  49. quirkyrachel says:

    As a Tolkein fan, I’d totally be willing to help with a fund for the pub’s legal fund.

  50. StarKillerX says:

    “We’re bringing people to the books and the stories who haven’t heard of JRR Tolkien”

    So their customers have never heard of Lord of the Rings before? Exactly which rock did they just crawl out from under?

  51. La Flama Blanca says:

    There’s a golf course near me in MD called “Hobbit’s Glen” and the neighborhood streets around it are named things like “Rivendell Lane”, “Wood Elves Way”, etc. The area was built in the 1960s and I always thought it an awesome alternative to the usual BS names given to suburban communities. Maybe they are next.

  52. apember says:

    I do not normally jump on the side of entities such as Hollywood, but in this case they may have a point. I understand that if you do not defend your copyright, you could loose the right to have it. Major league sports teams do this all the time when youth teams choose the same name as a major league team. From the article it does not seem like they are becoming trolls and demanding back payment for royalties.

  53. wildbill says:

    Sounds like it is time for Anonymous to take down another site. A take down faqua has been issued against Saul Zaentz Company.

    That or as others have posted, they have been around for 20 years, I think they are in the right. Send some money to their defense fund.

  54. alexwade says:

    Is it too late to nominate a company for the worst company in America?

  55. chargernj says:

    Looks like the public attention is helping.
    Sir Ian McKellen & Stephen Fry have come to the pub’s defense.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-17390623

  56. Hamish says:

    What a load of… Didn’t the Tolkien estate have to sue Hollywood to get payment from the millions or billion dollars made via the movies, merchandising, happy meals, etc?