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What's with the name?

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There And Back Again

Trademark Holder Doesn’t Want Filthy, Tricksy Archaeologists Referring to Prehistoric Humanoids as “Hobbits”

Not cool, Saul Zaentz Company. Not cool. The prehistoric humanoid species Homo floresiensis is commonly referred to in the scientific community by the nickname “Hobbit” due to it being around the same size as J.R.R. Tolkien‘s furry-toed fantasy creatures. But the Saul Zaentz Company/Middle-earth Enterprises, which controls certain Tolkien trademarks, has forbidden organizers of a free lecture on the species from using the title “The Other Hobbit,” saying ”it is not possible for our client to allow generic use of the trade mark HOBBIT.”

This whole situation is vaguely familiar—Zaentz, along with Warner Bros., recently shot down mockumentary The Age of Hobbits for copyright violation; production company The Asylum’s defense was that its Hobbits aren’t Tolkien’s Hobbits, they’re Homo floresiensis, so it’s totally legal, God, get off our backs! I think Zaentz has a case there, as Asylum was clearly using the name exclusively to piggyback off of Peter Jackson’s films and make money by doing so.

But Zaentz. C’mon. You’re not even going to let a free lecture by two of the archaeologists who discovered the species that’s been referred to as “Hobbits” for years use the name? That’s a little harsh. Says Dr. Brent Alloway, the associate professor who is organizing the event:

“I am very disappointed that we’re forbidden … to use the word ‘Hobbit’ in the title of our proposed free public event … especially since the word ‘Hobbit’ is apparently listed in the Oxford English Dictionary (and hence apparently part of our English-speaking vocabulary), the word ‘Hobbit’ (in the Tolkien context) is frequently used with apparent impunity in the written press and reference to ‘Hobbit’ in the fossil context is frequently referred to in the scientific literature (and is even mentioned in Wikipedia on Homo floresiensis). I realise I’m in unfamiliar word proprietry territory (as an earth scientist) … so I’ve gone for the easiest option and simply changed our event title.”

Alloway acknowledges that the timing of the event was deliberately meant to capitalize on Hobbit-mania, but, as io9 points out, he and the others involved in the event “are clearly using the word in a different market—scientific, rather than storytelling—and the very fact that they call it ‘The Other Hobbit’ acknowledges Tolkien’s invention of the word.”

This whole thing is just lame. And the new title—”A newly discovered species of Little People – unravelling the legend behind Homo floresiensis”—makes it even worse. It’s so clunky. And as a lover of words, science, and Hobbits, that hurts me. Backtrack on this one, Saul Zaentz Company. Pleeeease?

(via io9)

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  • Sheila

    Hobbits are fictional. Prehistoric humans are not. I get why they shouldn’t be called Hobbits, just like they shouldn’t be called Smurfs or X-men. Is this really an issue for people?

  • Merav Ulyansky

    Scientists are always naming species after pop culture phenomena. It’s absolutely normal to do so. And Hobbits have been so ingrained into our consciousness that it’s a very concise way of telling us exactly WHAT was so special about that species of human!

  • Merav Ulyansky

    So apparently scientists aren’t allowed to be nerdy anymore. :c

  • Captain ZADL

    Why not use Halfling? D&D has been getting away with that one for years.

  • Mitch

    This would be the same Saul Zaentz Company that sued The Hobbit Pub in Southampton (which had been in business for over a decade by the time the first LotR movie was released) to ditch the name, artwork and all references to Tolkien’s works; basically become a completely different establishment or be shut down. The fact they’re going after a scientific presentation as well is hardly surprising.

    The worst part is they’re not necessarily doing anything wrong, or even douchey. As I understand it, aggressive legal defense against potential trademark infringement, regardless of how trivial it may seem to the rest of us, is basically how things work in U.S. copyright law. Which isn’t to say it isn’t stupid and ridiculous, of course.

  • Catherine Johns

    I agree completely with Merav. The first discovered Australopithecus afarensis’s nickname is Lucy, after the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, it is completely acceptable to nickname scientific discoveries after pop culture. If it is good enough for Dr Donald Johanson it is good enough for me. If you start getting prissy about “science” and what is “acceptable” then you really are in an ivory tower.

  • Catherine Johns

    It should be noted that those that are looking at Homo floresiensis are not just archaeologists (in fact we are in the minority). Primarily those looking at the remains are paleo-biological anthropologists (paleoanthropologists). Though archaeologists are looking at the tools possibly associated with the remains.
    In complete agreement with the article though, what jerks!

  • Anonymous

    Although I really dislike this copyright mania by companies that were never involved with the creation in the first lace and only hold the rights thanks to completely mental laws, I am not wholly on the side of the archaeoloists here.

    I’m an archaeologist myself and I really think it was both indulgent and self-serving by the researchers to adopt this term in the first place. It distracts too much from the pretty complicated and important issues being debated about florensis being or not being a separate species.

    I’m all for nerdiness in research, but I think in this case it’s more a question of getting PR and goodwill for an hypothesis that is still being tested.

  • Denise Hutchins

    I’m certainly no expert in trademark law but it’s my understanding that if an entity doesn’t consistently defend their trademark/copyright/etc. they can lose power in future cases. In worse case scenarios, if an entity doesn’t usually fight against the free use of its property, the property could be judged to have entered the public domain when the entity finally decides to defend it.

    So my point is, judging trademark/copyright/etc. infringement cases to be uncalled for in one case but justified in another is best left to the courts. Don’t take it personally just because something you deem cool is also being targeted. Likely, there is no malice here, they’re not a bunch of Scrooges, they’re simply defending their property consistently. Personally, as an artist who may have to someday legally defend my copyrights, I give them a nod for it.

  • Sarah M

    This is the same jerkarse who is trying to sue a lovely English pub for bring named The Hobbit. He has some serious issues.

  • Anonymous

    more free advertising on the backs of the newspaper by the above.