Warner Bros. Bullies Airbnb Hobbit-Themed Offering Into Changing Its Name Over 'Hobbit' Trademark

from the napoleon-complex dept

We've covered intellectual property issues that revolve around Tolkien's Lord of the Rings properties before. By now, everyone should know that any use of or homage to those properties, or even coincidental usage, will typically result in angry letters from lawyers. What's even more fun about all of that is you get to play the game called, "Whose lawyers are going to write the angry letter this time?" Between the Tolkien estate and its IP management partners and Warner Bros., the studio behind the LotR films, they have managed to block an unrelated wine business from using the word "hobbit," bullied a pub named "The Hobbit" to get it to change its name before recanting said bullying, and got a Kickstarter project shut down for trying to create a real-world "Hobbit house."

This is where it's worth reminding everyone that Tolkien did not come up with the word "hobbit". That word already existed, though it meant something different than how Tolkien used it to name his race of diminutive folk. The Kickstarter example above is apropos to this post specifically, as it seems that Warner Bros. is at it again, having forced an Airbnb listing clearly designed to be another homage to Tolkien's hobbit homes in the Shire to change its name.

The Okanagan homage to middle earth that doubles as a popular Airbnb spot officially has a new name. It’s now the Second Breakfast Hideaway.

“And the h***** mountain hole is now a Second Breakfast Hideaway (I'm still full from the first one),” the AirBNB owners wrote in a May 22 post.

The popular Airbnb named for its likeness to the housing in J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of Rings books went on the hunt for a new name following a threat from Warner Bros. which owns the trademark to the word hobbit. Christine Le Combe and her husband purchased the Halfling Hideaway, located roughly 30 minutes east of Osoyoos, last year and renamed it the Hobbit Mountain Hideaway. It's been a popular vacation destination since it opened in 2019. Earlier this week, Le Combe was contacted by entertainment media company Warner Bros. and was told the word “hobbit” is trademarked and they asked her to take down the listing.

Unfortunately, the source post doesn't bother to interrogate whether the takedown request from Warner Bros. is remotely valid. I would very much argue that it is not, considering that Warner Bros. use of the term "hobbit" is solely focused on movies and movie merchandise, both of which are a far cry from the hospitality and rental business. But Warner Bros. also has deep pockets and the folks behind this Airbnb listing likely do not, which is why trademark bullying works. The threat of Warner Bros. taking this far enough for it to see the inside of the courtroom is almost certainly an extinction level scenario for the former Hobbit Mountain Hideaway.

So, instead, a movie studio gets a rental property to change its name. And that sucks, no matter how positive the victims of this bullying want to be.

“Having to get out of my comfort zone and engage with the community has been a good experience,” Le Combe said.

“I really didn’t think that somebody would copyright the word hobbit and then try to hunt a person down if they use the word hobbit because it’s not like I meant any harm. The hobbit house is an homage to the favourite book series of a lot of people.”

It's almost as though at Warner Bros. there is some sort of all-seeing eye that scours the physical and digital worlds for any use of the term "hobbit", all in an effort to track and strike down those that would use it. If only there were some usable analogy I could reference for that without getting sued...

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Filed Under: hobbit, hobbit hobbit hobbit, lord of the rings, tolkien, trademark, trademark bullying
Companies: airbnb, warner bros.

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