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Stephen Fry and Ian McKellan Will Save the Hobbit Pub by Covering License Fees

There And Back Again

Good news for frequent guests — and the owners — of the Hobbit pub in Southampton, England: two allies with a pretty decent amount of clout are stepping forward to pay the licensing fees required to let the pub retain its J.R.R. Tolkien-inspired name. Ian McKellan and Stephen Fry, both of whom are appearing in Peter Jackson‘s The Hobbit, will buy the rights themselves, which will allow the Hobbit to remain the Hobbit. While this looks like a cut-and-dry case of an overzealous big corporation going after a small business, however, was the Hobbit actually unfairly ripping off Jackson’s movie? Meaning that the company with the rights to Tolkien’s work was in the right here?

First, the first part of the story. It had seemed like one Saul Zaentz, who actually owned all the rights to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and had worked out a deal with New Line Cinema concerning those properties, was throwing his weight around, bullying any entity that was using any content from the Tolkien works in a way that he didn’t like. Eventually, he lost those rights, and that was when Jackson was allowed to direct the LOTR movies. But now that The Hobbit is coming out later this year, Zaentz is still up to his old tricks (without New Line Cinema) and went after the Southampton pub.

A public outcry ensued since the pub had been calling itself the Hobbit for over 20 years. And Fry and McKellan have now placed a call to the owners of the Hobbit saying that they will cover the licensing fees required for the pub to continue using the name they’ve used for decades.

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”.

A Facebook campaign in support of the pub had over 57,000 “likes,” and both Fry and McKellan — who have said they’d like to visit the pub once they finish filming — promoted the campaign on social media.

But — was Zaentz being a jerk, as per usual, or was the Hobbit actually trying to make money off of unlicensed merchandise? Simon Phipps, who has written about the Hobbit’s dealings, says that this is a rare case of Zaentz having every right to go after the pub. Apparently, it’s not just a fun, harmlessly Tolkien-themed pub with cocktails named after elements of the stories. They were using unlicensed movie stills, which really do belong to New Line Cinema, to advertise the pub. And while Phipps acknowledges that Zaentz is usually a bully when it comes to going after small businesses over copyright, he may have had every right to do so in this case. This one case.

So, the Hobbit pub is safe, thanks to Stephen Fry and Ian McKellan. Maybe now, they’ll clean up their act a little bit.

(via Boing Boing)

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