Neil Gaiman, Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen are just some top creative names backing a campaign to stop a small English pub from having to change its name at the instruction of American corporate lawyers.
The Hobbit in Southampton, a late night entertainment venue and Traditional English Pub rolled into one – and one of the haunts of Crucible artist Smuzz in his younger days – has been threatened with legal action by the Saul Zaentz Company, who are forcing them to rebrand by threatening what protestors describe as an unfair law suit.
“By my memory, the Hobbit could never be confused with ‘Anaemic CGI multiplex experience’,” he says. “Just for once, I’m optomistic about a Campaign against Sauron’s Hordes.”
The Saul Zaentz Company, who own the merchandising and film rights to some of Tolkien’s works and have done for 35 years, are demaning the rebrand by the end of May, also threatening other British companies with legal action, including a cafe and a maker of ‘hobbit houses”.
“Obviously, it wouldn’t be our beloved Hobbit if it weren’t The Hobbit anymore,” say campaigners, who have mounted a huge and now widely-publicised protest about SZC’s actions. “Whilst copyright must be respected it seems as though this legal case is being put forward for the wrong reasons – the SZC had an ongoing dispute with New Line Cinema over The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, and as a way of exerting their power over the legal rights, have started forcing small companies to rebrand.
“This is not right, and we can’t just let this happen. We must unite to stop this!”
“I’d not sue, if you named your cafe or pub after something I created & owned,” said Neil Gaiman on Twitter, prompting a conversation on copyright to which he is still as of publishing this news story, still commenting on.
A Facebook campaign page set up by student Heather Cartwright now has over 40,000 likes and the protest is being backed by Neil Gaiman, actors amazing Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen.
“I am a part-landlord of a pub called The Grapes, notes Sir McKellen in a blog post on the matter. “So far no vintners’ group has objected. That would be silly of course. As is this unnecessary pettiness. More Alice’s Wonderland than Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Harrumph.
“I haven’t yet talked to Stephen Fry about his disapproval of this Hollywood bullying but I’m with him all the way. All the way to The Hobbit pub once filming is over in July.”
The landlords of the pub, which has traded as The Hobbit for more than 20 years, seem to be a bit taken aback by the protest, started by their customers.
“We are in shock by the passionate and heartfelt support we have received,” they commented on their web site. “Keep it up guys and thank you all so much.”
The Hobbit Pub is located close to Southampton University on Bevois Valley Road. With its split levels, two bars, huge beer garden, Chef Bernie’s Caribbean BBQ and the very best live music entertainment there is something for all. “Popular with students, and like-minded locals, theatmosphere simply oozes from the bare brick walls every night as the pub fills to capacity,” they enthuse.
British company Visionary Media is also being threatened with legal action and has received “Pages of legal documents threatening us and our customers about out Hobbit Houses.”
Also threatened is The Hungry Hobbit cafe in Moseley close to where Hobbit creator JRR Tolkein grew up.
SZC is not connected with New Line, makers of the Lord of the Rings feature films and the upcoming Hobbit film. SZC owns the rights to characters and places referred to in JRR Tolkein’s stories and New Line licensed usage from SZC, who produced an animated version of part of the Lord of The Rings trilogy in 1978 and is also responsible for films such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient.
SZC’s lawyers letters to affected businesses state that “only those who qualify for a trademark licence may use Hobbit and other marks registered by SZC” and that use of the name Hobbit “is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception among prospective purchasers, who are likely to believe that your business is licensed, authorised, sponsored or endorsed by SZC”. Use of the name, say the lawyers, “takes unfair advantage of, and is detrimental to the reputation of SZC’s Hobbit mark”.
Categories: Other Worlds