Judge halts release of ‘Hobbit’ parody pic

Court rules that title was likely to create 'confusion' in marketplace

A federal judge has put a halt to plans to release a parody of “The Hobbit” just days before Warner Bros. and New Line release their first pic in the trilogy of the J.R.R. Tolkien story.

U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez issued a temporary restraining order barring Global Asylum Inc.’s “mockbuster” under the title “Age of Hobbits,” ruling that the project was likely to cause confusion in the marketplace. The judge asserted that Warner Bros. and other plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their claim that the parody infringes on their trademarks.

Gutierrez cited evidence from Nielsen National Research Group showing that about 30% to 40% of respondents “exhibited confusion about the source of ‘Age of Hobbits.'” He noted that in general, confusion levels of 25% to 50% provide “solid support” for a finding of likelihood of confusion.

Asylum contended that the film’s title referred to an ancient Indonesian sub-species and was not intended to relate to Tolkien’s fantasy, Gutierrez noted, but he wrote that the terms are not unrelated. Scientists came up with the nickname for the Indonesian sub-species because they resembled Tolkien’s characters.

“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,” he wrote.

Gutierrez scheduled a hearing for Jan. 28 to decide it the temporary restraining order should become a preliminary injunction.

Other plaintiffs in the case were MGM and the Saul Zaentz Co.