The Hobbit Pub Sued by Hollywood Producer

The Hobbit pub Southampton

It’s been a while since I’ve had an axe to grind here on IGP, I’ve been busy with other off-Portal stuff. However, congratulations Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) in Hollywood, because your latest dickish move has been enough to get me back on my soapbox.

Some of you may have already heard the news making the rounds that Saul Zaentz, the rights holder for certain Tolkien works including LOTR and The Hobbit, has decided to exert his right to ownership of The Hobbit, by bullying small businesses that use the word “hobbit.”

The company at the centre of this storm is a pub in Southampton, UK called The Hobbit. As you can see from the picture, it’s a quaint little pub that looks like it should actually be in the Shire or Bree. It’s a LOTR themed pub, featuring original LOTR art and cocktails based on LOTR characters. It’s also been in business for more than 20 years. The owners of the pub are simply LOTR fans wanting to share their love of Tolkien with the community. They’re not attempting to steal revenue from SZC. Frankly, they’re an advertisement for LOTR that should increase revenue for the rights holder.

But no, SZC is now looking at suing this small Southampton pub if they do not remove everything about LOTR and The Hobbit from their premises. As you can imagine, just complying with that request could be far too costly for owner, Stella Roberts, who has already said that she “hasn’t got the resources to fight it. I can’t fight Hollywood.” Plus, why the hell should she remove all references to Tolkien? As I said, this company has been around for over 20 years, and SZC who has purportedly owned these Tolkien rights for some 35 years has never bothered to do his due diligence and exercise his rights before now. It’s only because there happens to be a movie called The Hobbit coming out in less than a year that SZC has decided to claim ownership over it and harass whatever business happens to come up on his lawyer’s Google search for “hobbit.”

However, The Hobbit isn’t the only establishment to have suffered the wrath of SZC either. In November a cafe in Birmingham named Hungry Hobbit was threatened by a lawsuit if they did not remove all reference to The Hobbit and LOTR. Apparently, according to SZC, a cafe in the area in which Professor Tolkien grew up, is not allowed to honour their own literary heritage. Well thank goodness SZC doesn’t own references to King Arthur otherwise the whole bloody village of Tintagel would be bankrupt!

I’m sorry but this really does take copyright infringement too far. Professor Tolkien passed away in 1973. Thanks to a stupid change to the UK copyright law in 1995, copyright now extends to 70 years after the creator has died. I’m all for copyright laws protecting creators and even their family. However, this isn’t the Tolkien estate making these demands, this is one greedy little producer in Hollywood who simply can’t stand that a business might be making money while using a word he claims ownership of, not because he created it, but because he bought it.

Hungry Hobbit Birmingham

What’s more, can SZC even claim ownership over certain LOTR-related words? The word “hobbit” can be dated as far back as 1584. Other words such as Orc, Middle-Earth and Shire, to name just a few, far precede Professor Tolkien’s work. While I can see SZC legally being able to ask the owners of these establishments to remove licensed imagery from the movies, I call BS on the idea that SZC can claim ownership over the word “hobbit.” And lets face it, how is this hurting Saul Zaentz’ wallet precisely?

Not that any of this surprises me. A few years ago when we were in New Zealand looking for LOTR sites to visit, we learned that SZC and New Line were responsible for the removal of all Hobbiton-related props, including the bloody flowers planted there, after he learned that tours were taking visitors up to the former set in Matamata, and realised that he wasn’t making any money from it. And for all those that are about to say “well, he’s just exercising his legal right, after all, he did buy the copyright to Tolkien’s work,” all I have to say is this: The original LOTR trilogy made 2.6 billion dollars worldwide, not including licensing agreements and of course, the upcoming two-part Hobbit movie will no doubt add a few billion dollars to that number. As I’ve said, things like the tours, or a pub serve as FREE advertising for the movies and only adds to, not takes away from his pocketbook.

Thankfully, plenty of people think this SZC lawsuit is idiotic, including 33,000 people on Facebook, and another 4744 people on Twitter, and Stephen Fry who, oh yeah, will actually be in The Hobbit as the Master of Laketown. So please, if you guys are just as disgusted by this latest dickish move by Hollywood, get on Facebook, get on Twitter, show your support for The Hobbit and the Hungry Hobbit and let Hollywood know that they can’t get away with this shit.