UPDATE, 3:39 PM: Just hours after a federal judge today granted Warner Bros, MGM and others a temporary restraining order against mockbuster Age Of The Hobbits, WB hailed the court action as a victory over producer Global Asylum’s “cynical business model.” Warner Bros is the distributor of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. Here is Warner Bros’ statement:
“This victory underscores the importance of protecting the unique work of our industry’s creative community from companies like Asylum, whose cynical business model is designed to profit from the work of others. Their intent to create confusion in the marketplace on the eve of release of ‘The Hobbit,’ one of the most anticipated films of the year, has met with defeat.”
PREVIOUSLY, 2:47 PM: There will only be one Hobbit on the screen this week and that will be Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Warner Bros, New Line Cinema, MGM and producer Saul Zaentz today were granted the temporary restraining order they sought against Global Asylum’s mockbuster Age Of The Hobbits (read the order here). “There is substantial likelihood that consumers will be confused by Age Of Hobbits and mistakenly purchase the film intending to purchase The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, said federal judge Philip Gutierrez today. “Indeed, Plaintiffs have presented evidence that Asylum’s other films have caused confusion among consumers, who mistakenly purchase Asylum films intending to purchase a different film”.
Earlier this year, Global Asylum was sued by Universal over the resemblance of their American Battleship to the studio’s big-budget Battleship. Commonly in these cases, the mockbuster producers cite fair use and artistic license to plead their point of view. But usually after all the legal filings and bluster, these cases end up being settled. Not this time. Age Of The Hobbits was scheduled to be released tomorrow, but now the DVDs and Blu-rays will stay in their boxes until at least a January 28 hearing on the matter. “The release date of December 11 — three days before the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey — provides additional evidence that Asylum intended to profit by associating its film with Plaintiffs’ work. The close proximity of the release dates demonstrates a clear intent to capitalize on the extensive attention that the Hobbit Marks will receive leading up to the release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. At oral argument, counsel for Asylum admitted that the temporal proximity of the release dates was ‘not a coincidence’,” the judge added.
After filing their copyright infringement case November 7, Warner Bros, MGM and Zaentz had a survey conducted on November 18-19 by Nielsen to see whether people were confused by the titles. The result showed that of the 1200 people interviewed, “approximately 30 to 40 percent of survey respondents exhibited confusion about the source of Age Of Hobbits,” noted the judge today. That seemed to seal the TRO deal for the court. “The very interest at issue in a trademark infringement case such as this one is avoiding the public from being confused or deceived about a product. As such, a TRO enjoining Asylum’s release of Age Of Hobbits is in the public interest because it will prevent consumer confusion,” Gutierrez said.
Andrew Thomas and Farnaz Alemi of LA firm Jenner & Block are representing Warner Bros, New Line Cinema, New Line Productions, MGM and producer Saul Zaentz. Scott Meehan is representing Global Asylum.