The group behind the upcoming Peter Jackson-directed epic based on the J.R.R. Tolkien novel filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles today against the Global Asylum, makers of the other movie with “Hobbits” in the title. In the suit, a copy of which was obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the studios seek to stop the use of the word “Hobbits” in association with the “knockoff” film and ask a court to order that all infringing ad materials and packaging be destroyed.
From the complaint:
“The Asylum has been and is promoting and advertising its low-budget film using the confusingly similar and misleading title Age of the Hobbits, in an intentional and willful attempt (i) to trade on the popularity and goodwill associated with the Tolkien novels, the extraordinarily successful Lord of The Rings film trilogy, and the famous HOBBIT mark, (ii) to free-ride on the worldwide advertising campaign in connection with the forthcoming Hobbit films, and (iii) to divert customers and potential customers away from the Hobbit films.”
The move comes a few weeks after THR first reported that the Hobbit studios and The Zaentz Co., which controls trademark rights to the Tolkien book, threatened the Burbank-based Asylum, arguing that Age of the Hobbits violates the trademark in the protected phrase that has been associated with Bilbo Baggins and his fellow big-footed creatures since the book was first published in 1937.
The Asylum, known for its low-budget “mockbusters” that often trade on the hoopla surrounding major Hollywood releases, has set a Dec. 11 release date for its Hobbits movie, three days before the big-budget WB/New Line/MGM Hobbit opens in the U.S. The company has informed WB/New Line lawyers that it believes its movie is legal kosher because the “Hobbits” in the film aren’t based on the Tolkien creations.
“Age of the Hobbits is about the real-life human subspecies, Homo Floresiensis, discovered in 2003 in Indonesia, which have been uniformly referred to as ‘Hobbits’ in the scientific community,” a rep for The Asylum told THR in a statement when the legal dispute first erupted. “As such, the use of the term ‘Hobbits’ is protected under the legal doctrines of nominal and traditional fair use. Indeed, a simple Google search of Hobbits and archaeology reveals dozens of articles containing the term “Hobbit(s)” in the title.”
The description of Age of the Hobbits from the Asylum website suggests a different storyline from the Tolkien classic but with just enough similarities to raise eyebrows.: “In an ancient age, the small, peace-loving Hobbits are enslaved by the Java Men, a race of flesh-eating dragon-riders. The young Hobbit Goben must join forces with their neighbor giants, the humans, to free his people and vanquish their enemies.”
In addition, Asylum included a disclaimer on the film’s poster noting that the film is not about the Tolkien creature.
UPDATE: In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, The Asylum vows to fight the case:
“The Asylum has produced and released over 100 films and we have been sued twice for trademark infringement. The first action we won outright and in the second we came to a mutually beneficial settlement with a longtime partner. We like our record on these matters and intend to vigorously defend our rights.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Andrew Thomas, Farnaz Alemi and Kirsten Jackson at LA’s Jenner & Block firm.