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The Hobbit pub ordered to change name for IP infringement

By Chris Dawson March 14, 2012 - 12:43 pm

There’s a pub in Southampton which has for the last 20 years been called The Hobbit. The pub is now facing demands to change it’s name due the upcoming film release by the same name. Apparently use of “The Hobbit” is “likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception among prospective purchasers” who may assume the are buying official film merchandise rather than merrily downing a few beers in their local student hangout.

The JRR Tolkien classic novel theme is carried through the pub including Hobbit Pint Cocktails and Hobbit Shots. It appears that Punch Taverns who own the freehold and current landlady Stella Roberts will now have to change the pub’s name and theme unless they can fund a court battle with the wealthy film moguls in the states.

The Pub has a lively Facebook and Twitter following calling for the movie company to back down. Stephen Fry has added his support and a “Save the Hobbit” Facebook page already has over 16,000 likes.

Honestly, @savethehobbit, sometimes I’m ashamed of the business I’m in. What pointless, self-defeating bullying. http://fry.am/yGQDeh
Stephen Fry (who plays the part of the Master of Lake-town in The Hobbit film)

To me this is brand protection gone mad, to the rights owners it’s sound business sense. The film and merchandise rights for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were sold by JRR Tolkien in 1969, and are currently owned by Tolkien Enterprises, a company controlled by Saul Zaentz. However it’s only now that the Hobbit film is due out that they’ve decided to clamp down on any business using the name.

There are and another six – will they be next in line for an enforced name change? Have you ever had to change your business name and what would you do if you were ordered to rebrand by a bunch of lawyers because they’d suddenly decided that your name infringed their rights?

  • st georges dragon
    5 years ago

    I wonder if I can copyright my name? best not call anyone Arsehole or I will consult my lawyers

    • 5 years ago

      According to big US businesses no you can’t… at least you can’t if your name is similar to theirs. Check out Mike Rowe who at the time was a 17 year old student setting up a website design business on the domain mikerowesoft.com.

      He did ok out of it as the press picked up on a big US corporation sending threatening letters to a minor, but he didn’t get to keep his domain.

  • 5 years ago

    Since the rights holders did nothing to police and protect the intellectual property for 20 years, they would have a hard time prevailing in the US.

    But the pub would still have to spend the money to defend (or at least bluff a push-back), and might or might not get those monies back.

    Instead of bullying a local watering hole (that no one outside of town heard of before now) they film company could have celebrated it’s existence with a promo event.

    Now they have a PR nightmare on their hands, and the pub will not be able to handle all the new customers from around the world. They should start getting ready NOW.

    • 5 years ago

      It appears that the company has commenced a few trivial cases in the UK purely to enforce their ownership of the brand in response to some other ongoing disputes. The Hobbit Pub isn’t the only victim, there’s also the Hungry Hobbit cafe and Microlodge UK Hobbit Houses :-(

    • 5 years ago

      I hope some rich person with lots of free time counter sues as the word ‘hobbit’ is not a brand but a creature in folklore.

      If not US lawyers will start having a field day and we will all be extradited for something.

  • Gary
    5 years ago

    Yes I know it is a railway theme so be warned!

    From wikipedia:-

    “Due to the increasing licensing fees and many other restrictions imposed by HiT Entertainment, including the need for “Sir Topham Hatts” to have auditions and the requirement for intensive CRB checking, many heritage railways in the UK and overseas have reluctantly decided to withdraw from running “Thomas” days, thus reducing the income stream to these organisations”

    Those who in their spare time have built and exhibit (in their spare time for no fee) Thomas the Tank Engine model railway layouts in public have recently been asked by the new licence holder to either stump up a significant performing rights fee or change the name of the model railway layout.

    • Chris
      5 years ago

      Over the years “Thomas Weekends” have been major Cash Generating Events for Preserved Railways etc. At these Events significant quantities of Thomas Memorabilia have been sold. But as the Rights Owners have implimented more and more restrictions the numbers of such Events have declined significantly. No doubt with a significant reduction in the sales of Memorabilia.

      I wonder if the Licence Holders had a more sympathetic attitude at the end of the day both they and the many Preserved Railways would have benefited. No doubt they will claim that they are within their rights and on a strictly Legal point of view they probably are. But surely working with other organisations to the mutual benefit is far better in the long term?

      In regard to “The Hobbit” Public House. It has been there for 20 years. The film will be on release for a short time, then out on DVD and then on TV then just disappears into the Film Archives. Obviously the Merchandise will be worth a fortune(as usual). Yet they have decided to turn the weight of the Lawyers onto the Pub. Pathetic.

    • Chris
      5 years ago

      Thinking back to “Thomas Weekends”. Years ago the Rights Owners seemed to be sympathetic. Then changes of ownership meant that they demanded more and more and various Railways stopped having “Thomas Weekends”. I find myself wondering if it is a Classic “Law of Diminishing Returns” situation. Perhaps if they had continued to be sympathetic and with lower charges at the end of the day the Franchise might have been worth more to them. Again I find myself wondering if this could also affect the situation in regard to “The Hobbit” Film.

  • 5 years ago

    Well their chance to use this pub as marketing gold in the UK has passed. Do they know how many people will boycott the film at the cinema now?

    I have changed my mind about seeing it. I’ll wait till it’s on telly. Won’t even buy the DVD.

  • David
    5 years ago

    THIS IS RIDICULOUS – The case (if the Law actually works) would be thrown out of Court. And here’s why –

    Exxon Corp. v. Exxon Insurance Consultants International Ltd [1982]
    ——————————————————————-

    This case found,

    “This case is authority for the fact that typically there is no copyright in a name – invented or otherwise – and that a trade mark can only be infringed when there the infringing party shares part of the market segment” –

    http://www.law-essays-uk.com/resources/revision-area/company-law/cases/exxon-coporation-vs-insurance-consultants-international.php

    The only ways I can think that the pub could be seen to be infringing would be if they were claiming to be associated with the franchise or if they are using the official ‘The Hobbit’ font(s) in their logo. If the latter is the case, they can just change the sign!

    The owners of the pub should just defend themselves (for free) and state multiple precedents such as that mentioned above.

    The words, “The” and “Hobbit” cannot be copyrighted under UK Law.

    Simple as.

    Case closed.

    P.S. Anyone who’s seen ‘Red Dwarf Smeg Ups’ may remember Kryten stating that anyone can use the name ‘Red Dwarf’ to name a boat (and a multitude of other things). That was BBC acknowledging that they couldn’t own the rights to the phrase ‘Red Dwarf’.

    • David
      5 years ago

      If I remember my IP Law correctly (it was a while ago), the same would apply for any case of IP infringement. (At least in this case.) ‘Hobbit’ has been used by fantasy LARPers, wargamers and RPGers for years and is recognised as just another word for ‘halfling’. It’s already too commonly used outwith the LOTR franchise to be suddenly re-claimed as intellectual property.

      Money grubbing sods!

  • Gary
    5 years ago

    The Hungry Hobbit sandwich bar is now in the news:-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-17383704

  • 5 years ago

    To be honest there’s a big difference between UK law and US law. In the US if a company doesn’t chase down every infringement of their IP rights then they lose the right to protect it from anyone.

    This appears to me (in my naive ignorance of the law) to be a US company trying to apply US law to UK companies. I’d love to see one case go to court but it’s unlikely to happen.

  • David
    5 years ago

    I’ve just read the Yahoo article on this and (if it’s to be believed – I’ve never been to the pub in question) it would seem that it’s decorated with artwork from the recent films.

    I think that might make a bit of a difference, since ‘The Hobbit’ pub can be seem to be trading on the intellectual property created for the films.

    If they had just named the pub and a few drinks after the eponymous hero, I wouldn’t see the problem. If the appearance of the interior of the pub was based on descriptions of Middle Earth pubs, I don’t think there would be a problem.

    The lawyers could say, however, that the pub’s owners have used copyrighted imagery in a public setting and psychologically linked their goods to that copyrighted imagery which might create confusion.

    On a personal note: I think their making a fuss about nothing! (but that’s what lawyers like to do). Let’s say I drag a friend who has no knowledge of the LOTR franchise (unlikely, I know!) into that pub and they see the images and go out and buy the DVDs and some other licenced products, how exactly is that hurting the franchise holders???

  • Gary
    5 years ago

    Sir Ian McKellan who played Gandalf is now involved:-

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/now–gandalf–gives-his-backing-to-the-hobbit-threatened-with-legal-action.html

    Will Tamebay be litigated against over the use of “The Hobbit” in its topic title?

    This has a footballers and twitter ring about it.

    • 5 years ago

      The article says they’ve been offered the licence rights for a nominal $100 per annum. Sounds like a bargain to me if they can get some decent terms along with it!

      The artwork if it’s from the films is questionable… if they purchased official merchandise and that’s displayed then it’s hard to argue against it’s use.

  • Chris
    5 years ago

    As the whole effort of petty Hollywood Lawyers has been to make themselves look stupid and petty perhaps the “nominal” $100 should in fact be a “nominal” $1 per annum.

  • JMP
    5 years ago

    Rights owners spend millions marketing their brands. Why should they benefit from this, for nothing. Cheeky is my feelings on this, and I hope they get closed down.

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