Hollywood bully quashes use of Hobbit references

Hobbiton landscape

Drinks labels featuring hobbits, dwarves, let’s see what I can find…the answer? Much less than I expected. I bet there are a lot of beers and ciders on tap with temporarily thematic names, but there’s a lot less in production than I would have thought.  Why would that be?  This sure-to-be-a-blockbuster movie is out around the world; its stars are making appearances everywhere; and who hasn’t read The Hobbit?  Beer drinkers are notoriously nerdy, slightly romantic people (counting myself among them).  I’m surprised that there aren’t some one-off beers at least with Hobbit references in their names.

The answer may be that Hollywood is very, very jealous of its trademarks.  Take for example a British pub in Southampton named The Hobbit.  Their cocktails are named after the characters, and there are colorful paintings of the characters (graffiti-style, I’m told) on the walls.  A division of The Saul Zaentz Company, Middle-Earth Enterprises, which owns the film rights to The Hobbit, is suing the pub, which has existed peaceably for twenty years until Mr. Zaentz came along.  Middle-Earth Enterprises’ lawyers have told the pub that it must completely rebrand; change the name of the bar, the drinks, paint over the murals, take the posters off their walls, get new aprons even.  The owner, Stella Roberts, doesn’t have the resources to fight a company with nearly bottomless pockets; she hardly has the resources to change all of her marketing, her decor, her menu, and licensing.   It is, of course, being called the “hobbits vs. orcs” battle.   Happily, Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellan stepped in and a successful media campaign saved The Hobbit pub.

list of Hobbit-themed cocktails at The Hobbit Pub in Southampton
The Hobbit Pub, Southampton

Apparently, The Saul Zaentz Company has a history of harassing small businesses: in November, a Birmingham cafe called The Hungry order xanax online in usa Hobbit was accused of copyright infringement and told to phase out the use of their name on menus, websites, and signs.The Hungry Hobbit Cafe doesn’t have star backing, but it does have The Middle Earth Network.  The proprietors of The Hungry Hobbit Cafe have offered a nominal licensing arrangment to The Saul Zaentz Co., but I have not heard that it’s been accepted.  In fact, I haven’t found much news recently, and am not sure what to make of that.

You can support the Campaign to Save the Hungry Hobbit Cafe in Birmingham on Facebook or tweet a message of support @hungry_hobbit.

This might explain why websites are oddly unavailable for several cafes called The Hobbit in Texas and California.

The Saul Zaentz company is apparently also trying to trademark the word “Shire”.  There’s a Facebook page, and a twitter feed #savetheshire; Change.org has a petition going; if you’re in the SCA, which calls some geographic regions “shires”, you may want to sign it.  I can’t imagine Zaentz will succeed, but crazier things happen.

Do you remember the Scottish schoolboy who had to surrender his Narnia website address over patent and copyright infringement?  This one went to the U.N. for arbitration, even.  His site was www.narnia.mobi, which he had (apparently innocently) registered in 2006 –  until the lawyers for C.S. Lewis’ estate realized they hadn’t sewn up every url possible on the web, and came after the kid with mountains of paperwork, threatening millions of dollars’ worth of lawsuit.  Last I heard, the case was going to appeal in Scottish courts.

I did find a small handful of beer name references to The Hobbit, mostly one-offs, but I’m not going to publish them here.  It’s such a pity – we could all be having so much fun with it, which in turn could only encourage ticket and paraphenalia sales.  A single-location pub with a Hobbit theme would be fun to discover and visit: good for tourism, fun for the Tolkein fan, and not something a juggernaut law firm could create or replace – only destroy.

Like most Americans, I cheer for the little guy who overcomes the big bully.  This lot of Hollywood lawyers, and Saul Zaentz in particular, seem to be stingy, petty, and nastily aggressive.  I can imagine their corporate mission statement.  I can imagine the soul-crushing realization of a young lawyer, happy to have a job until he (using a generic pronoun here) realizes he’s sold his soul to something worse than the Grinch, who will twist his soul into its mold until he, too, torments innocent children and well-meaning small business owners.   They’re surely making the world a little less fun for the rest of us.  What a legacy.



Related Post