Thu
Mar 22 2012 12:10pm

Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen Save Hobbit Bar

So there was this pub, right, that has been in business for over 20 years in London Southampton and calling itself The Hobbit. Then there was this massive forthcoming movie blockbuster, see, and for some reason it hired a Hollywood film firm by the name of the Saul Zaentz Company to shutter anything with the word “Hobbit” on it to such a baffling extent that we’re forced to speculate that they did a Google search for the word “Hobbit” then blindly sent threatening letters to the first ten pages worth of links. Because threatening someone’s livelihood over a movie? That’s pretty shitty.

Luckily, Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen agree and have since stepped in and offered to pay for any fees leveraged against the pub by the movie that they themselves are starring in. This is probably because they’re decent people! (Again, just speculation based on their actions!) You can read more details on the last-minute save on the BBC site.

23 comments
Mordicai Knode
1. mordicai
There was a place in Akron called "Bilbo's" that I somehow never went to when I lived in the area. What...what was wrong with me? How did I never go there?!
anotherevilbadguy
2. anotherevilbadguy
Its in Southampton, not London. A reasonably well known and old port city on the south coast.
anotherevilbadguy
3. beerofthedark
Umm...the pub's in Southampton not London.

Oh, and "Bad SZC, bad boy! Behave or i'll take the rolled up newspaper to you."
Sam Brougher
4. Azuaron
I actually think The Hobbit pub needs a good kick in the copyright pants. If you go to their website, you'll see they're not just called The Hobbit, but they're using official Lord of the Rings movie images for their promotions.

I mean, as far as I'm concerned, The Hobbit (the book) and The Lord of the Rings (the books) should be in the public domain by now, so using the names of the characters and such should be perfectly okay (even if Mickey Mouse Law is stopping it). But don't go ripping off somebody else's current art and images for your advertisements and website.
Chris Lough
5. TorChris
Thanks for the location correction, all. I'll get to London proper one of these days...

@4. Azuaron. I think this an enormously grey area in regards to copyright and usage, both legally and morally, but I think what irks most people is the oversized reaction to it on the part of the film studio. This pub does not threaten the validity or moneymaking ability of the upcoming film or the book itself and there's no indication that SZC did anything to determine that was the case before threatening to shut the place down. To me, erasing someone's entire livelihood is not a punishment equal to whatever copyright/usage violations are being cited. Especially when there's no proof of harm.
Jenny Thrash
6. Sihaya
Houston, TX has the Hobbit Cafe (which was called the Hobbit Hole a couple of decades ago before it moved). I believe it has dealt with a few attempts to force a name change in the past. It might be worth finding how they solved it.
Sam Brougher
8. Azuaron
@TorChris I said a kick in the pants. SZC ordering them to change their name and stop using all the names from the books was overboard (even if they're well within their rights to do so). But the current offer of $100 a year for licensing sounds reasonable, and the pub should be paying that, not Ian McKellan and Stephen Fry.

To me, proof of harm is irrelevant. I mean, if Howard Tayler was fighting against McDonald's giving away Schlock Mercenary Happy Meal toys without permission, everyone would be on the side of Howard Tayler. Sure, that would be great exposure for Schlock Mercenary, and Howard Tayler would probably see an increase in web traffic and sales, so it's a win-win, right? But it's not McDonald's choice to use Howard Tayler's creation without his permission, and it's not the pub's choice to use Tolkein's creation without the rights holders' permission.

Copyright laws have to be consistently applied. Unauthorized use of copyrighted material is wrong (and illegal), and applying different rules based on the scale of the operation is hypocritical. License it, or don't use it, especially if the license is as cheap as $100/year.

Now, because of Disney (amongst others), we obviously get into some fuzzy areas about what has (and has not) entered the public domain, and what should (but hasn't) entered the public domain. For instance, no one really knows who own's H. P. Lovecraft's stories, and which ones have and haven't entered the public domain. Personally, I think the creator's death + 10 or 20 years is a good amount of time before something should enter the public domain. Legally, The Hobbit pub is definitely in the wrong just by virtue of its name. Ethically, much more of a gray area (and a light one, in my opinion).

Using images from the movies that just came out? Legally and ethically black. Like, if I had a bar called "Carter's on Mars," unambiguously acceptable, John Carter has entered the public domain (if someone's got a trademark on it, that's a whole separate issue). Then if I started using movie stills from the Disney movie that just came out? Unacceptable. Disney would sue me, and they'd be right to. You can't trade on living people's art without asking them.
Alan Courchene
9. Majicou
To clarify, the Saul Zaentz Co. wasn't "hired" by New Line or WB or anyone; Zaentz has had (some) rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, including the titles and character names, since 1976. They licensed their film adaptation rights to New Line. It sounds like this is entirely SZC/Middle-earth Enterprises' deal, and their licensees have virtually nothing to do with it (speculation, admittedly.)
Chris Lough
10. TorChris
@Majicou. Thanks for the clarification on the distinction. The BBC article make it sound like the legal action was film-driven.

@Azuaron. Yeah, I think we're both on the same page in regards to a justifiable action being taken in regards to defense of copyright or trademark. And I do think a 100 pound license fee is a very reasonable amount in regards to obtaining the rights to use The Hobbit, LOTR, et al.

What sticks with me, though, is SZC leading with an intimidating letter then offering a reasonable license. To my mind, that's a bullying tactic and gives me (and the actors as quoted in the BBC article) the impression that SZC didn't approach this with a mind towards finding the best solution for both parties while enforcing the copyrights/trademarks. Rather, that they know they're in the right, can enforce that, and are just bullying the pub, backpedaling now only because others with money have noticed. I'm in agreement with Fry and McKellen paying the license fee because it makes a statement against that kind of bullying.

(SZCs aggression also baffles me on a pro-enforcement level, because it's created a far bigger headache than necessary. Business that sloppy makes me more inclined to side with Fry and McKellen.)

(It also makes me wonder why this didn't come up twenty years ago, when the pub first started....)
Ashley Fox
11. A Fox
Nowhere in the article does it state that the pub uses images from the films. It is described as 'our artwork', the 'infringing articles' seem, in a round about jargon'd way, to mean the cocktails. "It features characters from Tolkien's stories on it's sign". Tolkien, not whichever movie mogul.

So I googled it. Yep, original artwork. Its not a Hard Rock cafe, its just a pub. The charas used on the sign are from the Hobbit, the sign is older than the film, so how could they use art from that film?

The only thing that I can see which is like the film, is the shot menu. And this does not copy, but uses the map, colours and script to have the feel of it. Like a homage....
Other Alias
12. ghostcrab311
Honestly, intellectual property is one of the worst ideas human beings have ever come up with. 7 years from creation is plenty long for copyright. Never mind the life +70 or whatever stupid number it is now.
anotherevilbadguy
13. Howard Tayler
@Azuaron: Interesting that you should bring up McDonalds (baffling that you should mention ME, though I thank you) since they're guilty of stealing McDonaldland designs from the H.R. Puffenstuff creators Sid and Marty Kroft, who they actually contracted for the designs, then (IIRC) cut loose, figuring they had enough to finish the project in house.

IP is a sticky thing. On the one hand, I'll fight to the death for Schlock Mercenary ownership because it's all that's paying my bills right now. On the other hand, I borrow heavily from pop culture and great science fiction all the time. "Fair Use" clauses notwithstanding, I don't stand a prayer in court if Disney, Costco, or Panda Express decide to come after me because I can't afford attorneys to do the appropriate praying.

In short, I borrow from our shared culture, but I'm not yet willing to freely contribute to it. Don't go making your own "Maxim 37" apparel, please. And I say "please" because I can't afford attorneys to ask less nicely than that.

Should IP law be reformed? Absolutely. Do I trust legislators and attorneys to get those reforms right? Not really, no.
Wesley Parish
14. Aladdin_Sane
It reminds me of the Blackball Hilton and the Hilton hotel chain's actions in relation to it in the early eighties.

Nobody that I was aware of, was impressed with the Hilton hotel chain - I for one felt it only just that a popular TV mini-series to come out of Australia in the eighties was titled "The Bangkok Hilton".

And I would never choose to stay the night in anything or anywhere titled Paris Hilton, or the London Hilton, or the New York Hilton, for fear of the cockroaches I saw in the Bangkok Hilton.
Rob Core
15. robtcore
@mordicai - Mr. Bilbo's in Akron was one of the best bars in the planet.
It had a great beer selection, and the clientele was a wonderful cross section of the population, and it had the most amazing jukebox I have seen before or since.
And huge Middle-Earth themed murals on the walls, and much more hobbit décor. It was fantastic.
They closed up on New Year's Day 2001. It was replaced by a great bar that focused on live music, but the new owner couldn't get enough folks to come out for the band, so now he changed it to focus more on food. They have good food, and it is a cool bar, but I still miss Mr. Bilbo's.

Interesting article on its closing here:
http://www.theonering.com/news/other-news/newswire-nostalgia-for-sale-at-bilbo-apos-s-akron-beacon-journal
Jenny Thrash
16. Sihaya
@Howard Tayler, you could take "IP" out of that last paragraph you wrote and be correct 90% of the time. :)
Mordicai Knode
17. mordicai
15. robtcore

Ah-ha! That explains it; it was gone before I was of age to indulge, but just barely. Sad. Back when I lived around there, Thursday's was my bar of choice.
anotherevilbadguy
18. Sparklepony
The hobbit is also an archaic unit of measurement, why don't they change the artwork and say it's based on that?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hobbit_(unit)
Scott Wade
19. Lyinar
Saul Zaentz has been notorious for wielding IP law like a sledgehammer with regards to LotR and The Hobbit. They are the reason why, originally, Games Workshop's licensing deal for LotR restricted them from making any miniatures based solely on the books, and why if you used LotR bits in a WHFB/40k conversion (or vice versa), said model would be banned from official events. GW even had to force them to allow them to use the ONE Nazgul Tolkien actually got around to giving a proper name to, by basically saying "Okay, if you won't let us use Khamul the Easterling, we'll just have to rename him Bob the Ringwraith in our upcoming supplement".

Saul Zaentz is also very largely the reason why The Hobbit has been delayed this long to begin with. All those legal issues were from them, pretty much.

What surprises me about this isn't that they're attacking the pub for its name and promotional material, it's that they didn't try to crush them decades ago.
anotherevilbadguy
20. Steve F
I tried a Hobbit bar once. It was a bit sweet, a bit crunchy, but definitely too small. And it was hairy at one end.
Rob Core
21. robtcore
@ 17. mordecai -

Thursdays is still up and running, and almost completely unchanged for the last 20 years (according to a friend of mine who used to DJ there in the late 80s/early 90s).
Mordicai Knode
22. mordicai
robtcore

I 100% believe that. The boon & the bane of Thursdays was its reliability.
Mordicai Knode
23. mordicai
robtcore

I 100% believe that. The boon & the bane of Thursdays was its reliability.

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