Feeds

back to article Lawyers of Mordor retreat from The Hobbit

It's doubles all round at The Hobbit boozer in Southampton at the news that the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) has called off the lawyers of Mordor, who were attempting to take down the Portswood pub for trademark infringement. SZC wrote to The Hobbit pointing out it had "exclusive worldwide rights to motion picture, merchandising, …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

Anonymous Coward

They should haggle

$100 still sounds like a lot to me when you have the whole inter-tubes on your side. If the lawyers want to save face that badly they'd probably settle for even less - and if what they say about the law requiring it is true, then surely $1 would suffice.

0
1
Bronze badge
Pirate

Remind us how much SZC paid Tolkein / his estate for the rights?

Didn't the dodgy US copyright laws of the day mean Tolkein lost his US copyrights?

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Remind us how much SZC paid Tolkein / his estate for the rights?

Your reminder: publicly available from papers filed during litigation a number of years ago, for convenience here follows a summary of the situation you reference. (Citations to documents have been removed, but the information was largely taken from public sources. You likely won't find any public monetary figures published anywhere, but rest assured Zaentz did pay for certain rights, and was required by its licensor to actively go after infringers and enforce the Tolkien estate's rights):

Sales of The Lord of the Rings continued to rise steadily until 1965, when it was learned that an American publisher, Ace Books, was planning to issue an unauthorized paperback edition without paying royalties. “Because of the confused state of American copyright at that time, the publisher doubtless thought that he could do this with impunity; and he also realized that such an edition would probably sell widely, especially among American students, who were already showing an interest in the book.”

The unauthorized publication of The Lord of the Rings in June of 1965 by Ace in the U.S. presented Tolkien with major concerns, so that rather than rushing to lawyers right away, he was distracted from his successor works for six to nine months bothering with the situation. Tolkien’s attitude in the face of what he regarded as immoral appropriation can perhaps best be summed up by a comment in a letter to his son Christopher: “Wars are always lost, and The War always goes on, and it is no good growing faint.”

Tolkien began to include a note in his replies to American fan letters telling them that the Ace book was not authorized and asking them to discourage sales of it. “This soon had a remarkable effect. American readers not only began to refuse to buy the Ace edition but demanded, often in forcible terms, that booksellers remove it from their shelves.”

Tolkien’s authorized American publisher, Houghton Mifflin, planned to issue The Lord of the Ring in paperback in collaboration with Ballantine Books, but in order to register for copyright they would have to make changes, which was explained to Tolkien. Each authorized book, including the paperback edition of The Hobbit published by Ballantine since August 1965, and The Lord of the Rings published since October 1965, have carried Tolkien’s message: “This paperback edition and no other has been published with my consent and cooperation. Those who approve of courtesy (at least) to living authors will purchase it and no other.” Tolkien’s request provoked an immediate personal response in his readers, such as Vladimir Padunov, who wrote to Tolkien in March 1970, apologizing for having previously purchased the Ace edition without having provided any compensation to Tolkien.

Word of the war being waged on the moral front was disseminated by diverse means, such as an April 1968 newsletter from the Florida state English teacher’s association. The controversy and subsequent consumer boycott of the pirated edition had been so widespread that it was noted even by The New York Times in January 1967.

The Ace paperback edition quickly lost the market to the authorized “official” edition. As a result of unprecedented consumer pressure on booksellers, and the Science Fiction Writers of America applying its influential pressure on Ace, sales of the Ace version began to fall sharply for the rest of 1965. Ace finally offered to pay Tolkien a royalty for every copy that they had sold, and promised to not reprint after existing stock was exhausted. [ ... ]

Professor Tolkien granted U.K. publisher George Allen & Unwin the exclusive license to publish The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He also established trusts to exercise the author’s reserved rights, and in July 1969, during Tolkien’s lifetime, the trusts together with George Allen & Unwin, granted United Artists (UA) exclusive world-wide rights to use “the valuable name, character, symbol, design, likeness and visual representation of all characters, places, objects and events” of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit in motion pictures, sound recordings, television production, merchandising and non-printed matter. As a result, UA obtained the sole and exclusive right to use the name, character, symbol, design, likeness and visual representation of all characters, places, objects and events referred to in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. UA also obtained all non-printed matter merchandising rights to use, and to license third parties to use, the names and marks of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien Enterprises is a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Saul Zaentz Company, whose motion picture and merchandising rights for Tolkien’s fanciful Middle-Earth characters were acquired from UA. As part of the purchase from UA after Tolkien’s death, Zaentz had also acquired the right to license others to use the Tolkien characters.

Not only did all of Prof. Tolkien’s four children consent to the assignment from UA to Zaentz, they and publisher George Allen & Unwin specifically authorized exclusive use of the name “Tolkien Enterprises” in connection with the merchandising and licensing program.

10
0
Silver badge
Happy

Re: Remind us how much SZC paid Tolkein / his estate for the rights?

Great, informative post.

Thank you,

2
0
Pirate

Thomas the Tank

The current rights owners for the Railway Series (Gullane (Thomas) Limited) are similarly just as grasping. Any pres railway with enough cash to licence Thomas to run kiddies' trains also have to jump through all sorts of hoops based on presentation and the like. So much so that several railways have devised their own child-friendly railway characters in very much a similar vein to the Railway Series, but not touching on Rev Awdry's creation. Rev W Awdry must be spinning in his grave at the way his books and characters have been lawyered-out in this way.

4
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Thomas the Tank

I was having a conversation about this very same thing the other week. Things may have just lightened up a bit (as they've found a rather lucrative trade fall off a cliff in reaction to their hardline stance...)

0
0
Silver badge
Go

So if the copyright lawyers = Sauron's minions.....

Then the FB campaign = the eagles? (No, not talking Hotel California! )

0
0
DJR

More to come?

Seems to me the $100 covers the trademarked names. If they are using copyrighted images from the films, there's probably another set of lawyers getting ready to threaten them over that.

1
0
Holmes

Re: More to come?

Yes, if you take images from a recent high profile film and use them to theme your pub, you are going to have to pay fro the privilege. One business using another business's copyright material for commercial gain, of course they have to pay.

The pub is a business, not an amateur fan site.

1
2
Silver badge
Meh

What's in a name?

A British pub would have a hard time passing off as a movie or other theatrical performance. It's similar to, in use, I'll see you down by the butchers.

You don''t drink there (at the pub) because of the pub's name but for the convivial company of the customers and the barkeep, as well as the choice of brews.

The greedy American should remember that any mention of his movie, or characters, is free promotion for him.

1
0

Re: What's in a name?

The pub name probably isn't the problem here (although they would probably do a bit of sabre rattling anyway), it is more likely things like the cocktails. They have trademarked the name Hobbit for every imaginable film spin off, including beverages. If they let this pub sell cocktails with trademarked names, they would lose the trademark (for the broad class which includes beverages and many other things).

You don't go to a pub because of its name, but some people like themed pubs, so there is a potential commercial benefit from using the copyrighted imagery. If you want to argue that the pub provides free promotion for the film - fine, that is something good to throw into the negotiations *when you ask permission*. It isn't a valid excuse to not ask.

0
0

I don't really understand most peoples' attitude to this case, so I will probably get downvoted. But I don't see how this pub have won some kind of moral victory. Please tell me where my logic is wrong here.

SVC own the rights (trademarks of the names use in relation to beverages amongst other things). They have to defend those rights or risk losing them.

The pub knew someone owned some kind of rights on those names, or ought to have (obvious to anybody who thinks about it for 10 seconds) and it is not exactly difficult to find out who owns the trademark and what it covers these days - its searchable on the IPO site.

If the pub had asked permission before doing it, SVC would have been perfectly within their rights to just say no. And they might well have said no, simply because it is too expensive to deal with a little pub so they can't be arsed. Or because they thought such a deal might cheapen the brand. Would anyone have got on their high horse about that? I doubt it.

So this pub infringe SVC's rights, either because they didn't have the common sense to find out what the legal situation is, or they just hoped they would never get caught out. When SVC do find out, why on earth shouldn't they adopt the same policy they would have done if the pub had asked?

I don't think they originally only wanted the £100 fee - they wanted to restore the situation to what it would have been if the pub had asked permission (ie no LOTR theme). Nothing evil about that, it is their entitlement as rights holders. Having backed down in the face of a somewhat unjustified public backlash, you can't blame them for trying to put a positive spin on it.

Isn't their a real ale called Hobbit? Assuming they paid for the rights, I wonder what they think about Hobbit themed cocktails?

6
3
Silver badge
Thumb Up

My thoughts precisely.

IP is not a strange, alien concept. It's been around in some form or another for nigh-on two centuries now. You can't just claim simple ignorance: if you're that thick, you probably shouldn't be running a pub at all.

The pub was in the wrong here. They took a massive gamble and damned near lost. That they managed to "win" this case with the aid of an equally ignorant internet crowd is just blind luck; legally, they didn't have a leg to stand on.

The law is very clear here: it is a legal obligation to protect a company's intellectual properties. The company lawyers don't get to pick and choose: if a violation comes to their attention, their default response is to sue for damages.

It's really not that hard to ask permission to use someone else's property. In my day, we called it basic manners.

2
3
Bronze badge

The facts are confused in this case and I doubt we'll get them now.

If the company indeed asked for just over a fiver a month from the get-go then I don't see an issue. Did they? Dunno. Won't know now.

0
0
Stop

Re: My thoughts precisely.

"legal obligation to protect a company's intellectual properties". yes but that legal obligation can mean many things and can be, for example, asking a little notice to be placed in the pub acknowledging copyrights/trademarks. By no means does it mean they MUST send the legal nuclear option.

1
0
Bronze badge
Pirate

You're talking about trademark rights. Trademarks are limited in scope. A company that has rights to make movies about hobbits doesn't necessarily have rights to sell meals or serve beverages themed on them.

As far as I can see, everyone involved in this story so far seems to have made the automatic assumption that just because one company controls the right to make and market movies, it also controls the right to sell drinks. That's a serious abuse of trademark - the scope is limited by design, it's not a loophole.

In this case, the pub laid themselves open by using imagery taken from the movies. That was stupid. And thanks to this "compromise", now they've effectively (by precedent) given that rapacious rhymes-with-James-Blunt the right to control "the hobbit" name as applied to pubs.

And the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward...

1
0
Anonymous Coward

They'd have more of a case...

If the pub hadn't been known as the Hobbit since before the first LOTR trilogy appeared in cinemas. Chasing after them twelve years ago as part of a crackdown on unlicensed use of their rights would have been harsh. Doing it now just makes them look incompetent AND shows how negligent they've been.

1
0
Happy

Watch him or he'll rob you blind. Allegedly.

Saul Zaentz ? Ah, that explains it. The same company that in 1985 sued 1970's rocker John Fogerty for the song The Old Man Down The Road on the album Centerfield saying in was plagiarizing Down On The Corner that John had written for his group Creedence Clearwater Revival back in 1969.. Saul lost the case btw.

But in a compromise got John/the record company to change the title of one of the songs on that 1985 album from Zanz Kant Danz to Vanz Kant Danz. It was about a pig that steals your money. You do the math.

Zanz Kant Danz still available on vinyl copies. Allegedly.

Sing along kids!

http://youtu.be/qAEd_U7TEEM

"Zanz can't dance, but he'll steal your money,

Watch him or he'll rob you blind. "

1
0

Thankfully...

...Gollum's Precious (a small boutique jewellery shop) in Dun Laoghaire (a suburb of Dublin) went out of business last year.

0
0
Bronze badge

Re: Thankfully...

Hmm... I wonder what they might make of a certain housing estate in South Woodham Ferrers, then?

0
0
Silver badge
WTF?

Saul Zaentz Company just like the IOC

Everywhere the IOC conns it's way in to having another country host it's money raising programs their lawyers seek out and try to bully anyone using the name Olympic in their trade name to change it,

They met their match in Toronto, during the Montreal Olympics, when one 'offender' went to court and said his name was Olympic and that he had run his eatery on Eglinton Avenue West for years. The court ruled that because of all the facts he could continue to use his trade name.

They tried it on with Olympic Airlines and lost and by the time the successor airline was formed the IOC had reconsidered it's ways.

They also chase people with five rings or five balls in logos.

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Is that spokesperson for the rightsholder actually allowed to state a lie regaring 'the £100 offer'?

0
0
Bronze badge
Pint

Good Moon Rising?

Maybe Zaentz is finally learning to Danz!

0
0
Anonymous Coward

First thing we do, is kill all the lawyers.

Those who deal with copyright and intellectual property will be at the front of the queue.

Burn the fucking lot of them, I say!

1
0
Childcatcher

I am sure..

that I remember the pub was called The Hobbit before the Americans got involved. Is this not prior art?

Anyway you could always change the name to Thobit as in "I'm going t'Hobit t'have a pint".

And another thing Thobit is a student pub, what are they doing serving cocktails?

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Global movie rights under US law aside.

Aren't these names from an 80 year old English book?

I'm sure I'll be corrected but isn't there a 50 year statute on copyrighted works?

What plans do they have for the home counties who are cashing in by using "shire" in their names?

1
0
Devil

rough pub anyway

it's just full of scratty students, beardies wearing jack daniels t-shirts and crap cocktails.

how do they get let off from using elijah woods and ian mckellen's faces then?

0
0
Thumb Up

50/50

I'm on the fence tbh. Been going to the pub for years, it's more of an alt-music/rock venue than a student pub, but does happen to be surrounded by student pubs so gets its fair share of students through the door.

They have been taking the piss with copyright infringements for years, I've even commented to staff in the past and they simply didn't feel they needed to comply with any laws, so the lawyers were in the right to demand they stop. It would not have been a huge undertaking to rebrand, a new sign on the door and take down the posters etc inside. Done. And I don't feel it would have changed the pub, since no-one does go there because they like the books/films, they go because it's one of the best pubs in the south.

But: I'm totally thrilled that my favourite pub won't be changing, since I fear change.

1
0
Stop

Not just the images, they didn't like the term" hobbit", either. Read the letter.

The term "hobbit" is found in the nineteenth century, Denham Tracts. It predates Tolkein. SZC have no rights to that name as far as I can see.

0
0
FAIL

"You can blame the interwebs for this whole sorry, and completely unnecessary affair. Zaentz explained: "If it wasn’t for the internet we probably wouldn’t have found out about this pub. "

No, we can blame YOU for being an overzealous money grabber, it's a small time backstreet pub trying to make a living. They clearly weren't intent on ripping off the name or showing it in a bad way. It's a themed pub, nothing more! where did common sense come in?

1
0

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.