Licensing is a tricky beast. The Saul Zaentz Company holds licensing rights for The Hobbit films and it recently asked a pub of the same name in England to change its name or buy a license for the rights to use it. The pub has been held the name for over 20 years; they even serve drinks named after characters in the story and images from Middle Earth appear on signage. Who else wants to go there immediately? Well thanks to Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry, the pub gets to keep its name.
The two gentlemen became aware of the pub’s trouble and stepped in to help. The owner of the pub was very concerned she wouldn’t be able to afford the licensing fee which she said could be “$100 this year and $20,000 next year.” Producer Paul Zaentz told the BBC they were open to licensing for a nominal fee:
He said: “When it’s an established business, we like to get the company to acknowledge they are using our trademarks, stop selling infringing articles and then we will grant them a licence for a nominal fee – approximately $100 a year.”
Fans of the pub are on board to save the day, and they have Gandalf on their side. McKellen and Fry tweeted about The Hobbit, stepping in to pay the licensing fee while calling out the Saul Zaentz Company for “unnecessary pettiness” and “self-defeating bullying”. They even remarked that they would like to drop in the hub and have a pint or two.
However, there are two sides to the coin here, and it may be that Saul Zaentz offer is exceedingly generous given the circumstances. A local writing into Boing Boing explains thusly:
Simon Phipps writes, “The Hobbit is one of my locals, and I thought you’d like some background. I wrote about the case here. While the pub has existed for a long time, The Hobbit started opportunistically abusing their movie-related paraphernalia a while back and has been trading on it for years without seeking permission – presumably because someone there knew they’d never get it. They could have commissioned their own artwork but they didn’t. Far from it being a case of a bully acting improperly, I think actually Zaentz acted uncharacteristically well here. This wasn’t about the pub calling itself ‘The Hobbit’ primarily, it was about ripping off movie stills and using them for advertising. They challenged that abuse and then offered an amazingly easy settlement. Meanwhile, instead of any sign of a mea culpa, some people have been wildly slandering Zaentz. Given how much the law sucks and is being weaponised, I think we should be encouraging previously abusive companies like Zaentz to act this generously in future.”