Some may see it as unwarranted bullying, while others say it is to be expected. Either way, the publicity arising from recent allegations of IP infringement have certainly thrown The Hobbit pub in Southampton firmly into the limelight. The Saul Zaentz Company, owners of rights to the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings brands, among other JTT Tolkien work, have taken action against small business owners in the past, such as in November of last year where their lawyers argued that the Hungry Hobbit cafe took unfair advantage of the Hobbit trade mark.
While the cafe is reportedly considering a change of name, the pub, which sells Frodo and Gandalf cocktails, has received overwhelming support not only from the online commuity, but from actors involved in the upcoming Hobbit film. A Facebook campaign has rallied the support of 60,000 Facebook users (Save the Hobbit, Southampton), and actors Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen have even agreed to pay licence fees on behalf of the pub to settle the dispute.
When issues like this capture the imagination of the public, the results can be surprising, I’m sure that SZC were not expecting such a backlash. More so than any marketing or education by businesses in the field, these disputes serve to increase public awareness of IP issues crucial to businesses worldwide. Taking advantage of the public interest, a group of Tolkien enthusiasts have now also begun a campaign against exclusive rights in the word Shire, encouraging visitors to their website to proudly showcase a Save the Shire poster. It will be interesting to see how much momentum they are able to generate.