IT is like the script from a Hollywood blockbuster.
Southampton pub The Hobbit has been caught up in a legal face-off with a massive multi-national American company.
The David and Goliath-style battle could mean the popular watering hole has to change its name and theme entirely. The legal row has been described by regulars as “like hobbits versus orcs” – a famous scene from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
The landlady says she has been told to remove all references to author JRR Tolkien’s creations, and the subsequent smash-hit films made about them – or face legal action.
The name of the pub, the website, interior and exterior artwork and the fonts it uses for promotions could have to go. Even the pub’s popular Lord of the Rings themed cocktails – named after characters such as Frodo and Gandalf – face being scrapped.
The pub, which has been trading in Bevois Valley Road under the name The Hobbit for more than 20 years, says it is being threatened with legal action by the Saul Zaentz Company.
The California-based company is owned by US movie producer Saul Zaentz, who made Oscar winners The English Patient and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
He owns the worldwide film, stage and merchandising rights to The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.
The Lord of the Rings movies, which star Elijah Wood as hobbit Frodo, are among the most successful in history and the follow-up film The Hobbit is due out at the end of this year.
Last night pub landlady Stella Roberts, 41, said her small business did not have the funds to stand up to the Hollywood giant.
They have been given a deadline of the end of May to change the pub’s theme – or legal action will be taken for copyright infringement.
She said: “We just haven’t got the resources to fight it. How can I take on a multi-million pound power?
“It’s all in the hands of the solicitors at the moment – we are just stunned.
“It’s not just a case of changing the name – it’s all the merchandise, artwork, absolutely everything. We never planned to steal anybody else’s ideas – we’re all such huge fans of Tolkien that it’s more like a homage.”
A campaign to save The Hobbit pub name has been launched on the Internet – attracting over 3,000 followers.
Pub regular, Ann-Marie O’Halloran- Woodford, 32, from Midanbury, said the pub was unique. She added: “I think it’s very symptomatic of the little guy verses the big guys – people who have the money have all the rights and that’s the way the system works. It’s like hobbits verses orcs.”
Heather Cartwright, who set up the Internet campaign, says she would be devastated if the pub had to change its theme: “Part of the fun of The Hobbit is its theme. I can’t think of any other pub where I’ve walked past a Ringwraith, or had the pleasure of being able to say: ‘I’ll have a Gandalf, please’.
“It’s a homage to Tolkien’s work, not someone just selfishly trying to capitalise off it.”
In November, a Birmingham cafe called the Hungry Hobbit was also accused of copyright infringement by lawyers representing SZC.
The cafe was told to “phase out” the use of the name on menus, websites and signs.
The Daily Echo attempted to contact both SZC and Edward Wildman Group solicitors, who are acting on behalf of the company, but no one was available to comment.
• Reporter Bethan Phillips will be at The Hobbit at 4pm today to collect the views of regulars. Please come down to have your say.