The Hobbit pub ordered to change name for IP infringement

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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.
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?

18 Responses

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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” –

    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’.

  6. 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.

  7. 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???

  8. 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.

  9. 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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