The Hobbit vs. Middle-Earth (Enterprises) – A Social Media Epic

Hobbit Pub Southampton

Social media is a powerful and effective tool in the right hands. Our social media training course teaches you how to use social networks to build your brand using a social media marketing strategy. In this blog post we look at the ‘Save The Hobbit’social media campaign. The highly successful campaign has received coverage worldwide as people fall in love with the idea of a small pub taking on Hollywood suits.

In this post we tell the story using Tolkien’s own words. The quotes come from both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and we hope nobody minds us using them!

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The Hobbit is a pub nestled in the Shire of Hamp. Popular with students it is themed with characters from J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.

The Hobbit serves cocktails named after Lord of the Ring characters (collectively called The Fellowship), sells The Hobbit t-shirts, has Tolkien-inspired wall murals in the beer garden and features the film version of Frodo on their loyalty cards.

Recently, the pub has come under threat from Tolkien trademark holders Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) who license out the trademarks as Middle-Earth Enterprises.

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dragons-use-for-wealth-hobbit-quoteThe pub has traded as ‘The Hobbit’ for over 20 years without any hassle. Supporters of the campaign have asked why Middle-Earth are suddenly pursuing their claim against The Hobbit and other businesses when they have let them be for so long.

They also query just how much money Middle-Earth would make from licensing compared to their generous income from the Lord of the Rings trilogy and upcoming Hobbit films.

Others ask whether the rights of a 75 year old book that has a special place in the hearts of many should still be protected by copy right.

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It-is-not-your-shire-lord-of-the-rings-quoteSupporters of Middle-Earth say that The Hobbit should give up its name as it is just trying to wring money out of a popular brand.

Supporters of the pub refute that the pub was named The Hobbit 20 years ago, long before current landlady Stella Roberts took over and long before The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings became the phenomena they are today thanks to major Hollywood productions

It is only since the Lord of the Rings films threw the works of J.R.R. Tolkien into popular culture that Middle-Earth began pursuing claims for trademark infringement. Since those films, the Hobbit trademark is now worth a lot more than it was 20 years ago and is set to increase as the first Hobbit film is set for release this year.

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no-despair-lord-of-the-rings-quoteWhen many would have surrendered to the demands of Middle-Earth, one hobbit took a stand. The ‘Save the Hobbit’ campaign was started by student Heather Cartwright who was outraged when she heard about Middle Earth’s action.

Having saved The Hobbit, Heather is now helping the other Hobbit businesses stand up to Middle-Earth.

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shire-folk-rise-up-lord-of-the-rings-quoteWho would have thought that a hobbit could stand up to Middle-Earth?

In the past, people have been all but powerless to defend themselves without the help of expensive lawyers. Social media has given them a way to do so!

Facebook and Twitter gave The Hobbit a platform to cobble together an army of 50,000 fans to help them out.

This resulted in attracting the interest of Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry, who not only stood up for The Hobbit but have decided to pay the trademark license fee between them.

The pub themselves say “Picked the wrong bunch of Hobbits didn’t they?”

This story has brought the issue of trademark protection to the global press and may set a precedent for future cases.

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if-we-all-got-angry-lord-of-the-rings-quote‘Save The Hobbit’ is a prime example of what can happen we a large group of people get angry together.

Social media helped the group speak as one. Before social networks, anger against Middle-Earth would have been restricted to word of mouth and little would have happened as a result.

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world-is-full-of-peril-lord-of-the-rings-quoteThe support for The Hobbit has been overwhelming, especially with Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellen (both currently filming for The Hobbit) backing the campaign.

In a time when the news is filled with stories of litigation and of pubs closing down it is heart-warming that so many people have got behind a local pub to defend it from Middle-Earth.

Love mingled with grief is a perfect way to describe the emotions of Hobbit workers and drinkers alike. Grief that the business has been threatened (and is still unsure of its position) followed by the love of the 50,000 people who support the pub on Facebook.

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do-not-meddle-lord-of-the-rings-quoteSomething that Middle-Earth overlooked was the affection felt towards not only The Hobbit itself but small businesses world-wide.

The Hobbit pub is primarily a young person’s pub and young people are well versed in using social media. They knew exactly how to whip people into frenzied anger of a scale that Middle-Earth never would have guessed.

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liar-lord-of-the-rings-quotePaul Zaentz has been quick to defend Middle-Earth, necessitated by the negative press coverage his company was receiving.

Zaentz portrays Middle-Earth as the little guy taking on a large company (Punch Taverns).

This claim does not sit well with the other cease-and-desist orders sent to independent businesses including ‘Hobbit Homes’, ‘Hobbit Travel’, and ‘The Hungry Hobbit’ café.

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trolls-are-slow-hobbit-quoteMiddle-Earth claims that if they didn’t take action then Hobbit pubs would spring up all over the country.

As The Hobbit is an independent pub (Punch Taverns only owns the freehold) and has been trading for over 20 years, it doesn’t seem likely that they are about to launch a chain.

Middle-Earth soon would have realised this if they had done a bit of research instead of sending a letter than has been described as ‘threatening’.

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thief-hobbit-quotePaul Zaentz claims that Middle-Earth are not after money, they are just trying to protect their trademark. Protecting the trademark ‘The Hobbit’ has proved hard enough, but if news that they are trying to trademark the use of ‘Shire’ is true then they have a much harder task on their hands wrestling brand names away from business owners.

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conquer-lord-of-the-rings-quoteA strong criticism of trademark  law has arisen out of this story as people ask just how long a piece of work can be protected before it becomes public domain, especially something loved as much as J.R.R. Tolkien’s epics.

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eyes-of-the-great-lord-of-the-rings-quoteThe action of the ‘Save The Hobbit’ campaign may have eliminated the need for a length court procedure.

Punch Taverns, the largest pub chain in the UK, owns the freehold to The Hobbit. Their legal team would certainly have contested SZC’s position which could have resulted in a drawn out, costly process.

The ‘Save The Hobbit’ campaign sped things up by forcing the hand of both parties. The press coverage meant that Middle-Earth had to make a compromise quickly to rescue their reputation.

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traitor-may-do-good-lord-of-the-rings-quoteWhatever the final outcome of the tale, a Southampton pub has received a huge boost in awareness world-wide which has probably done wonders for their profits.

In writing a letter to ask a pub to rebrand itself at its own expense, Middle-Earth inadvertently gave it some well received publicity and a much stronger fan base of Hobbits than before, including two major film stars.

If reports are true, The Hobbit will only have to pay $100 a year, and that will be covered by Gandalf and The Master of Laketown.

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