New Line to knockoff film studio: Hands off our ‘Hobbit’

October 19, 2012

Hands off the HobbitI like Redbox, but I am often puzzled by how many of its offerings are poor imitations of legitimate Hollywood fare. These straight-to-DVD hack jobs have amateurish cover art, no stars in their casts and titles that seem to be designed to trick people who are in a hurry. Oh, you thought you were getting “300”? You actually got “3,000.” Nice try!

Movie studios haven’t been able to put up much a fight against these clear imitations ever since a 1993 court ruling gave the okay for an “Aladdin” knockoff to be released to all 16 people who’d actually want to see it.

But now, one of these rip-offs might have gone too far.

New Line Cinema and The Zaentz Co. recently sued notorious imitation factory The Asylum over its movie “Age of the Hobbits.” New Line is the studio behind Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit,” which will be released in December, a few days after “Age of the Hobbits” goes straight to DVD. “The Hobbit” follows New Line’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which made approximately $1 billion at the box office — a figure that doesn’t include revenue from memorabilia, DVD rentals and sales and licensing.

It seems The Asylum saw a gravy train and tried to get on it with “Age of the Hobbits,” but New Line isn’t about to let anyone milk its cash cow. So, when it saw the word “Hobbits” in The Asylum’s movie, it alleged trademark infringement. “Hobbit,” it claims, was a word invented for J.R.R. Tolkein’s novels, which New Line and The Zaentz Co. have the exclusive right to adapt for the screen.

The Asylum’s argument in response is interesting: it said that “hobbit” has become generic; it gets tossed around in everyday speech (usually used to describe small, hairy guys, apparently) and was even used to describe a hominid species discovered on the Indonesian Island of Java in 2003.

I have to admit I do think using “hobbit” in your title would be nominative fair use. That being said, I wouldn’t want to go up against New Line. Its adaptations of Tolkein’s novels have been some of the most lucrative films to be released in recent memory and I have no doubt it will do all it can to protect these golden eggs. (Unlesss, of course, New Line does something like buy the rights to “Age of the Hobbits” and then buries it. The Asylum would at least make money that way.)

These sorts of copycat films usually don’t interest me, but while I was writing this post I saw that the plot synopsis for “Age of the Hobbits:”  “small, peace-loving Hobbits are enslaved by the Java Men, a race of flesh-eating dragon-riders.”

“Flesh-eating dragon riders?” This might fall into the “so bad it’s good” category.