Space Ramblings

Hobbits, Sauron, Copyright and Pubs

I’m not fond of the Saul Zaentz Company and its heavy-handed approach to copyright enforcement while licensing a bunch of crap using the Tolkien license. But the Hobbit pub in the UK doesn’t deserve the sympathy that it’s getting for being sued by SZC. This isn’t like the time McDonalds sued a man named McDonald who had his own place in the UK. This is a pub that used the movie characters in its advertising extensively.

There might be a sympathy vote if the pub had stuck to the literary scene, used Mirkwood or Lothlorien, and avoided explicit movie refs, but that’s not the case here. The banner outside uses the movie characters. The inside materials did too. That’s blatant exploitation of a movie without arranging for the licensing.

I’m not sure why I should feel sorry for a pub that tried to cash in on the movies, not the books, or treat it as an abuse of copyright when this was a lazy attempt to appeal to students without thinking of the obvious consequences.

Supposedly the pub had that name for twenty years, which predates the first movie by a decade, and it would have been on safer ground if it hadn’t begun using the movie characters. It still probably would have been sued as the release date for The Hobbit, the movie approaches, but it could have relied on being a English institution using a word from an English writer being sued by the bloody yanks, but when you’re exploiting Hollywood, it’s hard to complain about being used by Hollywood.

Just to make the last of the sympathy go away, The Hobbit is owned by Punch Taverns, which is the largest pub operator in the UK and operates over 6000 pubs, it has revenue of over a billion pounds a year. So all the complaints of “We’re a small pub and we can’t fight a lawsuit by a major company” are nonsense.

Imagine Pizza Hut deciding to begin selling Hobbit pizza without licensing. It would deserve about as much sympathy as Punch does.

“Southampton Test MP Alan Whitehead has also condemned the threat of legal action. He said: “It’s like the story – a small business minding its own business until the forces of darkness envelope it.”

I don’t recall that happening in The Hobbit. Also I don’t remember anything in LOTR about Sauron suing a billion pound corporation for violating his copyright, which might be closer to the mark. Especially since Punch Taverns has been accused of monopolistic practices.

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