All publicity is supposed to be “good” publicity. So why are Hollywood attorneys going after a Southampton pub named The Hobbit over copyright infringement? Isn’t the name a standing advertisement for Peter Jackson’s upcoming two-part epic?

Not to lawyers for Saul Zaentz Company, who – according to the BBC – are threatening to sue pub owner Stella Mary Roberts and demanding she immediately remove any references to JRR Tolkien’s characters because they own the legal rights to the Lord of the Rings brand.

“I can’t fight Hollywood,” the owner told the BBC, and therefore must remove all Hobbit references, including the pub’s name, which has been in place for more than 20 years. Roberts’ establishment sells cocktails named after Frodo and Gandalf. She also put Elijah Woods’ likeness on the pub’s customer loyalty card.

To implement the changes would cost thousands of dollars, Roberts estimates. A Facebook page dubbed “Save the Hobbit” has been set up by local student Heather Cartwright. At the moment, it has more than 45,000 likes. Tavern ownership Punch Taverns, meanwhile, reportedly is looking into legal recourse. But Roberts brings up a larger issue – How much harm, if any, is a small pub named The Hobbit really doing to the Rings brand? “Are we doing any harm? I don't think so,” she tells the BBC. “We're bringing people to the books and the stories who haven't heard of JRR Tolkien.”

And I tend to agree. Prior to this, I didn’t even know that The Hobbit pub existed. Now I do, and only because it’s being strong-armed by a corporate identity who wants to squeeze every penny out of its lucrative brand. Now that’s bad press. Ultimately, this legal skirmish won’t hurt Jackson’s efforts, but it might leave a bad taste in the mouths of Hobbit fans worldwide … and we know what a fiercely loyal bunch they can be.

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