One of the production companies that bought the rights to Tolkien's franchise Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) have declared war on Earth. As part of their contractual agreements, they own all property for goods and merchandise relating to The Hobbit. Granted, New Line got anal about it with artists who weren't on commission by them when the first movie came out. Dozens of artists, like Cincinnati-based Mike Makras (now retired), were sued or sent legal notices to cease and desist production art relating to Tolkien's world middle-earth. Now, upon production of The Hobbit, the concern is again raised when SZC struck an all-time high of strict policies concerning their rights to The Hobbit materials. Read on after the jump for more details and how small businesses are in danger from them.
Southampton's pub called The Hobbit certainly has the look and feel of a Hobbiton pub, decorated with middle-earth art, Loyalty Cards with Elijah Wood as Frodo, and menu items that scream Lord of the Rings in their titles, but SZC is now ordering a cease and desist to the pub. They will have to spend just as much on rebranding with renovations, revamping, and changing legal documents for the entire building and business as they would in court hiring a lawyer for a long and arduous process. If anything, the pub is a permanent advertisement for the movies and the books, drawing in crowds unfamiliar with the works of Tolkien. Nearly overnight, The Hobbit pub has gained international attention from Lord of the Rings fans in a facebook page "Save the Hobbit, Southampton", run by the the pub's administration, and in an online petition "Save The Hobbit Pub in Southampton". The facebook page is soaring in numbers, as of now being at nearly 35,000, (UPDATE: Now 45,000...10,000 overnight!) and the petition has nearly 5,000 (now over 8,000...3,000 overnight!). The Hobbit actor Steven Fry is aware of the issue and has raised concern about it, tweeting an article while expressing his disappointment and shame that he is a part of the film. I'd say he should threaten to walk off the set, but they'd let him, sue him, and replace him. It could also set them back in the film making process.
The Hungry Hobbit cafe in Birmingham was also told to filter out its menu in November of 2011, as it would cause confusion. Because of that confusion, people would go insane, lead a revolt, and go on murderous rampages.
In addition to The Hobbit pub and Hungry Hobbit cafe, Microlodge has also been under attack the last few months with legal punishment threatened, according to owner Steve Miller via facebook on the "Save The Hobbit, Southampton" page. Microlodge provides high-quality hobbit hole-like portable camping structures. "I've had to completely change my website, also been told to delete my blog, remove every ref to the H word from Flickr, tell my customers they may be sued etc etc. We are a 2 man outfit and a threat to nobody," explains Miller. They're certainly taking on a small matter unworthy of legal repercussion. "Sledgehammers to crack nuts..." as Miller says.
Unlike Hungry Hobbit, Microlodge was "given no phase-out time." Miller honestly tells, "The fact is, regardless of what we do, many people will still refer to my units as Hobbit houses. Then what? Sue everyone? We even had Sir Menzies Cambell open our first units, and in the newspapers, they referred to them as Hobbits. You cannot even change the spelling as you are still inferring association with the books/films. I'm all for this campaign, but it would need to raise serious cash to take on this mob with no definite result of a win to be certain of."
UPDATE: In addition to Stephen Fry, Ian McKellan has also expressed his position on his website with the utmost respect and, of course, beautiful language.
It's highly likely these businesses will be shut down, bankrupt, or nearly kicked to the curb, but perhaps be vocal enough to stop the rampage the SZC is on. Those who run The Hobbit pub say do not make donations. If they decide to, they'll do a fundraiser and sell T-Shirts, if it needs to come to that. The Hobbit pub does not insist that fans should boycott the film, as many fans are declaring. The pub says that it would only hurt the filmmakers, which have nothing to do with the ordeal and would not help in any way. But the threat of diehard fans boycotting the film might have some punch to the cause.