Hungry Hobbit cafe told to change name

image captionThe cafe was bought by its current owners six months ago

A Birmingham cafe, based near where author JRR Tolkien grew up, has been threatened with legal action by lawyers working for a US film company.

The Hungry Hobbit in Moseley has been accused of copyright infringement by lawyers representing the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC).

The company owns the worldwide rights to several Tolkien brands, including The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.

The cafe has traded under the name for the last six years.

Its current owner Wendy Busst said she had taken over the cafe just six months ago and it was her first business.

Those working at the cafe said they had been shocked to read the letter.

Debbie Shuttleworth said: "They think we're this big empire, but we're just a cafe."

She added that changing signs, menus, aprons and other items would be expensive for the small business.

"We just want to remember our heritage and the area we're in. Our customers just think it's really silly," Ms Shuttleworth added.

'Cause confusion'

JRR Tolkien grew up in the nearby village of Sarehole, which in the early part of the 20th Century was still mainly farmland, before being swallowed up by Birmingham.

It is thought Sarehole Mill and Moseley Bog provided the inspiration for places depicted in both The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings.

In a letter - headed "Unauthorised Use of Hobbit" - SZC's lawyers requested the cafe "phase out" the use of the name on menus, websites, signs and "other materials on which the Hobbit mark or related marks have been displayed".

It stated "only those who qualify for a trademark licence may use Hobbit and other marks registered by SZC".

The letter goes on to say that use of the name Hobbit "is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception among prospective purchasers, who are likely to believe that your business is licensed, authorised, sponsored or endorsed by SZC".

It added that use of the name "takes unfair advantage of, and is detrimental to the reputation of SZC's Hobbit mark".

Forthcoming films

The company also owns the rights to characters and places referred to in the stories.

The Lord of The Rings and forthcoming The Hobbit films, made by New Line Cinema, have been licensed from SZC.

SZC itself produced an animated version of Lord of The Rings in 1978 and is also responsible for films including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient.

The owners of the cafe said they had responded to the letter, seeking clarification of some of the points raised.

They said they had also explained the name's relevance to the local area and that the cafe had traded as The Hungry Hobbit for the six years.

The cafe owners said they were awaiting a reply from SZC's lawyers.

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