Hobbit -v- Hobbit

by Jessica Howard

In this time of economic crisis everyone has been hit hard; families, single parents, civil servants, carers…the list goes on. But whilst we have had to contend with whatever ‘money saving’ scheme the government throws at us, whether it be public spending cuts or tax increases, spare a thought for small business owners; you may have thought it was just rising cost of inflation, or competition from larger chain stores that they had to deal with, but now they face a bigger enemies. The dreaded Corporations.

I don’t want to sound like some ultra-liberal hippy type who slams anyone for making a bit of money-or, in some cases, a lot of money-but it seems that decency, common sense and compassion have become a thing of the past where the Corporations become involved. So is it really all about the money?

It all revolves around ‘The Rights’. Take, for example, a current on-going battle involving a small pub in Southampton called The Hobbit. The Hobbit is essentially a homage to Tolkien. You can buy cocktails with names such as ‘Frodo’ and ‘Gandalf’, and Tolkien inspired art and decoration fills the pub. It is a novel and individual place, and has been trading under the name ‘The Hobbit’ for twenty years.  But a couple of months ago, The Saul Zaentz Company (the SZC), who own certain rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books ordered The Hobbit to either change its image or shut down completely.

Zaentz has owned these rights since 1976; so why now? Obviously the up-coming release of The Hobbit movie must have something to do with it. But why not take up legal proceedings in 2001, when the first of the Lord of the Rings movies came out?

Well, because these days it is easier to get away with. Thanks to what is known as the ‘suing culture’ where everyone is suing everyone, where every other TV commercial is a solicitor promising to get you compensation for stubbing your toe at the supermarket, and where everyone has gone health and safety mad to ensure that they don’t get sued, something like this is almost expected. Excluding factors such as common sense and human decency, the SZC is legally completely within its right to do this, as are many of the large companies who own ‘The Rights’ to various names and products.

But does that mean that mean they should? It isn’t just The Hobbit pub that has come under attack; Microlodge Uk, which specialises in fixed camping shelters have become a victim of the SZC for the selling of their ‘Hobbit Houses’, and a small café in Birmingham called ‘The Hungry Hobbit’ has also come under fire. If it is a matter of principle, then the SZC is making its point, and fairly.

But of course, it isn’t completely fair. After drumming up over 50, 000 supporters on Facebook, Sir Ian McKellen writing of his support for the Save The Hobbit campaign, and Stephen Fry, who is currently involved in the filming of The Hobbit movie tweeting “sometimes I’m ashamed of the business I’m in. What pointless, self-defeating bullying”, the people of The Hobbit refused to go down without a fight. Now, SZC have told The Hobbit that they can continue trading, but only if they pay them $100 a month, a price which could rise at any given time. Luckily for The Hobbit, both Stephen Fry and Sir Ian Mckellen have come together and announced that they will pay the monthly fee, and whilst this is good news for The Hobbit, it isn’t the point; the SZC are essentially pitting money over any sort of principle that might make this acceptable behaviour.

Despite not agreeing with the action taken at all, I can see (legally) the SZC’s point. Some companies, however, seem to have let common sense fly out the window, with some claims that are both petty and childish. Take for example the famous Dolce and Gabbana; At the end of last year, two Scots mechanics where threatened with closure by the Corporation when they tried to register their business. Their crime? Their business name, created from their initials, “D&G Autocare.” Dolce and Gabbana decided that their business name would be likely to confuse people and they were afraid people would unwittingly enter the garage looking for expensive designer handbags. Or, heaven forbid, a customer may drive a car into one of their expensive city stores and demand an MOT! Please, give us people some credit; most of us aren’t that stupid. So are Dolce and Gabanna going to sue everyone with the initials ‘D&G’ in their names? Luckily the Italian Corporation lost their case thanks to a costly legal battle and the fact that Dolce and Gabbana failed to get their formal objection in on time.

At a time where people are financially vulnerable, this seems like the perfect chance for the million pound Corporations to swoop in and try and exert their control over our small, homegrown businesses. But as the Hobbit case shows, people power can still prevail; if we truly want to live in a fair and decent world, it’s time we started looking out for one another, time we started supporting each other and standing up against this nonsense.  The Hobbit is an inspiring story, and at a time when it seems everyone is forced to look out for no-one but themselves, it proves just what we can do when we band together and take a stand.

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