Stephen Fry has joined the fight to save The Hobbit pub in Southampton, which is currently facing pressure from Hollywood lawyers who want to change its name.
The QI host, who is in New Zealand filming his part in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit, called the move “pointless, self-defeating bullying”, and took to Twitter to voice his support for a Save the Hobbit campaign. “Honestly, sometimes I’m ashamed of the business I’m in,” he said.
The pub in Portswood, Southampton, has been operating under the Hobbit name for 20 years and offers patrons the chance to order drinks named after characters from JRR Tolkien’s novels.
But lawyers from the Saul Zaentz Company in California, which owns the worldwide rights to several Tolkien brands, have accused the pub of copyright infringement and given its landlady, Stella Mary Roberts, until the end of May to change the name or face legal action.
Roberts said: “We were absolutely stunned. It was completely unexpected; we never intended to infringe anyone’s copyright.
“Are we doing any harm? I don’t think so. We’re bringing people to the books and the stories who haven’t heard of JRR Tolkien.
“We don’t have the financial resources to fight it – I can’t fight Hollywood.”
Further online support for the pub came from Southampton’s MP, John Denham, who tweeted: “You would have thought the film company makes enough money to be able to leave the popular Hobbit pub in Southampton alone.”
With the prospect of legal fees that could easily run into six figures, it would be a costly matter for the pub to defend itself in court.
Michael Coyle, an intellectual property expert from Southampton, said: “It’s a game of poker – ultimately they would win because they have deeper pockets.
“But it’s not going to do the film’s PR any good – all the sympathy is with the pub so it will have a backlash as well.”
The Save the Hobbit campaign had amassed 19,900 followers on Facebook at the time of writing.