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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Middle England unites to save The Hobbit

Save The Hobbit campaign poster by Marcus Gabriel

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, 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.

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.

Stephen Fry's tweet about The Hobbit

"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.

The bars open from 4pm until 3am Monday to Friday and from 12 noon until 3.00am Saturday and 4.00pm until 2.00am Sunday, with musical entertainment every night of the week.

Punch Taverns, which owns the freehold to the building, told the BBC: "We are aware of the situation and are currently consulting with our legal advisors."

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".

Other companies have successfully defeated previous attempts to stop them using the hobbit name, including Wozniak Travel. 
• Twitter @savethehobbit
• Pub web site: www.hobbitpub.co.uk

1 comment:

John Freeman said...

As an update on this story the pub's owners announced on Facebook that the SZC have contacted the press.

"The SZC have stated that they would like to resolve the matter of our possible copy right infringement amicably.

"The SZC wishes to avoid a lengthy court battle with Punch Taverns as it feels that there would be a role reversal in that the SZC would be David and Punch Taverns Goliath. (Snigger snigger!)

"They have asked that we arrange to operate by way of License and that they would grant this License for a nominal fee of $100 per annum.

"It does not, however, tell us what this License would entitle us to.

"However, there is one thing we are 100% certain of and that is that the support of 48,000 people plus the support of Stephen Fry, Neil Gaiman and Sir Ian McKellen has got them a little FREAKED OUT.

"I am sure they thought we would just roll over and bow down to their bullying tactics.

"Picked the wrong bunch of Hobbits didn't they ?

"As soon as we hear back from the Solicitors as to the terms and conditions of this license we will update you.

"Thank you all so very much and keep spreading the word."

Stephen Fry and Sir Ian have also offered to pay the license fee and visit the pub when filming on "The Hobbit" wraps.

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