During the last month, a monumental force has been gathering, defending the Helm’s Deep that is The Hobbit pub in my own native Southampton from the forces of Sauron’s army, headed by the Saul Zaentz Company. I’ve been following it very closely, and now things seem to be (pretty much) resolved, thought I’d chronicle it all here for future, personal memory.
I actually found out about this early on (leading me to think that I was one of the first to know about the case) and it was Hobbit landlady Stella who imparted the news – The 8th of March was the annual RockSoc Easter pubcrawl, this year harbouring the theme of ‘Fantasy/Sci-Fi’, hence I was garbed as the Witch-King of Angmar, head of the Nazgûl and one of the chief antagonists of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King:
I was greeted with a free Sauron shooter by the landlady for my (in my own words) excellent costume effort, and also informed that soon they would no longer be able to call them that; informing our group of the letter from the SZC demanding that all LotR-based references (including the name of the pub, and the names of the character-themed drinks) were removed and forcing the pub to re-brand. At the time, it seemed that everything was in the hands of solicitors, but the pub itself appeared resigned to its fate. Not so, for a Facebook campaign group set up by a group of students appeared a few days later, proclaiming a crusade to stick it to the Hollywood lawyers and a resolve to not to take this lying down, along with mass word-spreading on Twitter. And here’s where things really took off.
In the knowledge that SZC was also attempting to sue the Hungry Hobbit Cafe in Birmingham, and a tourist spot in Scotland, both of which were using the ‘Hobbit’ title in possible copyright infringement, the Facebook/Twitter campaign distributed the news, and an article soon appeared in the Daily Echo (Southampton’s local newspaper) and a feature on BBC Radio Solent, before the national (and international) press caught on and published the story. Everything truly blew up when Stephen Fry, popular Twitterer and all-round good guy, retweeted his criticism of the lawsuit:
Fry was, and is currently, in New Zealand filming for The Hobbit movies with Peter Jackson himself. The ongoing campaign was strong enough to be truly international, and Fry’s involvement suddenly made this big news in major channels – articles even appeared about Fry’s tweet alone, showing how even something as little as 140 characters can generate a major news story.
Soon after, word reached The Hobbit proper, when Sir Ian McKellen (Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) scribed a blog entry professing his distaste for SZC’s actions in trying to bring down a place that in no way harms the brand of Tolkien and his books, and if anything introduces so much more into the lore by positively spreading the word of Middle-Earth. Despite having never visited the pub, McKellen appreciated what The Hobbit represents: A wonderful place of warmth, charm and atmosphere, in which one always feels welcome and amongst friends; as if the camaraderie of Hobbiton itself were resolutely transplanted into our world. As McKellen wrote: “It’s clearly not a place to ill-treat hobbits, elves, dwarves and wizards.”
In the context of growing negative publicity, it was revealed within the week, live on BBC Radio Solent, that SZC had contacted the press and had decided to meet the pub half-way, by offering a licencing deal whereby ‘The Hobbit’ name (and, presumably, other names) would be leased in return for a nominal fee of $100 or less. Hence the mood was jubilant:
But what’s happening now? Well, it’s all quiet on the Gondor front, and two weeks on, there appears to be little news on the quest on the Facebook group. Part of the difficulty is figuring out what the licence permits them to do, and assuring that such problems don’t arise once again in the future so once again, the fight is back in the domain of the Lawyers (on both sides), and everything’s being kept tight-lipped.
Needless to say, the campaign is continuing and it’s easy to think that the 60,000 Facebook likes and backup from Stephen Fry, Sir Ian McKellen and Neil Gaiman have got SZC on the run. Still, one little bonus to the story is that, regardless it seems, The Hobbit won’t have to pay the licence; thanks to last-minute stepping in of Fry and McKellen to pay the provisional fee and to visit the pub once filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey / There and Back Again finishes later in the Summer. Not, of course, that we needed convincing how awesome these guys are, but at least it affirms that, sometimes, the power of the internet can be a mighty force when used for good. Hurrah.
Of course, I’m hoping that this’ll be updated (sooner rather than later) with a solid conclusion to the story. Fingers crossed.