Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen pay to save The Hobbit pub from trademark trolls

You've probably heard that an old pub called The Hobbit in Southampton is under threat from the film company that controls the licensing for the Tolkien canon. After a public outcry, the company agreed to sell the pub a license to go on using the name it has had for decades. Stephen Fry and Ian McKellan -- who are both in the Hobbit movie (Fry is in NZ right now, shooting) -- decided that this was stupid, so they've paid the license fee themselves.

She said: "I had a telephone call on Saturday evening, while we were trading, from Stephen Fry's business partner and manager. That's when he told me.

"I was very shocked.

"They've said as soon as they finish filming they would like to come down and visit the pub."

...Sir Ian, who plays Gandalf in the Lord Of The Rings films, described the film company's actions as "unnecessary pettiness" and Fry said it was "self-defeating bullying".

Hobbit pub copyright row: Stephen Fry and Ian McKellen to pay licence (via Techdirt)

Update: Simon Phipps writes, "The Hobbit is one of my locals, and I thought you'd like some background. I wrote about the case here. While the pub has existed for a long time, The Hobbit started opportunistically abusing their movie-related paraphernalia a while back and has been trading on it for years without seeking permission - presumably because someone there knew they'd never get it. They could have commissioned their own artwork but they didn't. Far from it being a case of a bully acting improperly, I think actually Zaentz acted uncharacteristically well here. This wasn't about the pub calling itself 'The Hobbit' primarily, it was about ripping off movie stills and using them for advertising. They challenged that abuse and then offered an amazingly easy settlement. Meanwhile, instead of any sign of a mea culpa, some people have been wildly slandering Zaentz. Given how much the law sucks and is being weaponised, I think we should be encouraging previously abusive companies like Zaentz to act this generously in future."


  1. Isn’t there a “laches” defense when somebody has been using a name for a long time, where they can continue the use even if it was technically infringing, because the trademark owner never objected earlier?

    1. Trademark and copyright are, generally, two different things. You have to defend your trademark or lose exclusive rights to it. Copyright you can sell, rent, or give away without effecting other uses of it. (As I understand it, IANAL, etc.)

  2. I certainly hope Mr. Fry is as generous with the lawsuit currently pending against my shop, “Mr. Sound of a Lighter Being Dropped on a Counter’s Coffee Counter and Law School Emporium”.

    1. Now wait a moment. I thought that was spelled Mr. NIPPL-E. That’s a HYPHEN there before the E. Very important, you know.

  3. I hope this gets sorted. I’d quite like to see the film and boycotting it in defense of a pub I’ve never been to doesn’t sit well with me.

  4. I’m surprised the pub has gotten a pass from the Tolkien estate!

    Personally, I’d rather see these two wonderful gentlemen pay for legal representation on pub’s behalf; paying the license fee just tells the film company that trolling is a productive business plan.

  5. It was nice of them to pay it for the pub, but at the same time they should never have had to pay for the licence in the first place. I hope the Tolkein estate is happy that they’ve made a few more dollars desecrating the corpse of J.R.R.

    1. I hope the Tolkein estate is happy

      The pub’s been doing business for 20 years without the Tolkien estate getting involved.  It’s the lidless eye of Hollywood that’s caused the problem.

  6. “Unnecessary Pettiness”.  Bingo, Mr McKellen.
    But taking a step further, these petty companies with their petty lawyers, a misguided version of game theory, zero-sum game, seem to see no context but their own, and will only twist the wrist when it’s about bad PR.

    “But we have the exclusive right to use this word!  The law is on our side here, why don’t people understand?”  Sure, there’s a signed piece of paper somewhere, that tilts the law in your favor.  Please be a jerk about it.

    And still the idiots in this industry wonder why people were angry about SOPAPIPA and whatnot.

    1. Further thoughts on the matter, now that I mentioned game theory.

      Schizophrenic mathematician John Nash had an experiment which he called “Fuck You, Jack”, based on the expectation that, when given a chance, people would always be nasty and petty with each other, but they weren’t.

      Every single day we are given evidence that corporations meet the “Fuck You, Jack” expectations of Mr Nash.  While the individuals within the corporation remain nice and civil with each other and others, in daily life.  What the company does “Is not me.  It’s just, you know, business”.

      And they will always try to further rig the game in their favor.

      1. As Corporations are Persons would that mean that there is a predisposition to Sociopathic Tendencies by these Persons?

        Can we mandate, as a result, some form of treatment to mitigate these tendencies?

      2. Schizophrenic mathematician John Nash had an experiment which he called “Fuck You, Jack”, based on the expectation that, when given a chance, people would always be nasty and petty with each other, but they weren’t.

        By any chance, has this sentence been influenced by Adam Curtis’ remarkably unfair representation of Nash?

  7. With all due respect – and they are due a great deal of respect – to Sir Ian and Mr Fry, I don’t think you should pay copyright trolls: it just encourages them.

    As I recall, in the book, the hobbit overcame the trolls; sad that it doesn’t seem to work like that in real life.

      1. I guess there’s not enough room on the sign in front to change it to “The Pub Formerly Known As ‘The Hobbit’.”

  8. And here I thought Warner Brothers was being petty when they threatened the Marx Brothers with legal action for making “A Night In Casablanca”.

    Although in that case Groucho responded by saying that, first of all, he didn’t know that the Warners had exclusive rights to the entire city of Casablanca, and furthermore, if they wanted to argue about it, the Marxes had been brothers longer than the Warners.

    That, to my mind, is the ideal way to deal with copyright trolls: baffle them with strange and unassailable logic.

    1. Nevermind Shire is a term in of itself. As well try trademarking Wizard, or Dwarf…

      Where does this madness end?

      1.  well first of all the colours white and grey will obviously belong to them for the rest of eternity and beyond. then anything representing an eye will get problematic too. finally, anything “evil” will also have to come up with a new word to call itself. maybe anti-happy?

  9. I’m not entirely sure these lawyers are copyright trolls. It says in the article that the pub serves beverages and food named from the book, uses images from the film in its decorations and such, and even has Elijah Wood as Frodo on its member card.

    Not sure that’s all that different from an “unlicensed LOTR-themed pub,” to be honest.

  10. That pub used to be my local when I lived in Southampton. I drank there, played a few gigs there, fell in love with a barmaid there.. I’m glad to hear these fine folks are saving it. It just wouldn’t be the same without the lotr paraphernalia and cocktails. Trust me, nothing beats a pint of Gollum :-D

  11.  “unnecessary pettiness” and Fry said it was “self-defeating bullying”.

    Both are historically proven sources of profit.

    1. I remember finding a bar/wing joint in Shreveport, Louisiana back in the 80s called Bilbo Baggins.  I bet they couldn’t get away with that today thanks to the net surfing legal beagles.

  12. The whole thing stinks, though hats off to them for defending the pub.

    If a major classical piece of literature passes several ideas, or “intellectual” bits, such as nouns or adjectives over into everyday language, and other users of that language decide to not appropriate, but use those (more or less) common words in non-derogatory ways, then FFS what is their problem??

    FWIW this isn’t the only Hobbit pub, but I probably ought to shut up now….

    1. There used to be a bookstore on L.A.’s Westside called A Change of Hobbit.  That was the store where Harlan Ellison sat in the storefront window and wrote stories on a couple occasions.  I guess it wasn’t Saul Zaentz who put them out of business, since
      The Other Change of Hobbit 
      has been open in Berkeley since 1977.

  13. I think this is defending the wrong people. As the update states, this isn’t an old village pub being sued by a global megacorp for having the wrong name.
    They’ve shamelessly ripped off the movie stills for promotional material. Even the sign outside the pub is a picture of the movie cast.
    As the update says, the licensing company is being pretty generous by offereing them a license, rather than suing them to hell and back for all manner of trademark and copyright violations.
    Let them pay or let them stop ripping off the movie. If they were just a pub called the hobbit (of which I’m sure there are several), they’d never have been ‘threatened’.

    It does remind me of a local pizza place that was called “Belushi’s” until the estate of a Mr. John Belushi sent them an angry letter. It’s no called “Capone’s”, presumably because the Al Capone’s surviving relatives are less likely to sue (though I think the owner should be wary of people with baseball bats).

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