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'Hobbit' knockoff release blocked by judge

December 10, 2012|By Ben Fritz
  • A federal judge has temporarily blocked the release of the low-budget knockoff "Age of the Hobbits."
A federal judge has temporarily blocked the release of the low-budget knockoff… (The Global Asylum )

Warner Bros. has succeeded in blocking the release of a low-budget knockoff the same week that "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters.

A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against Tuesday's scheduled  DVD and online release of "Age of the Hobbits" from "mockbuster" factory Global Asylum.

The judge in Los Angeles found that "Age of the Hobbits" violates plaintiffs Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Saul Zaentz Co.'s "Hobbit" trademark, based on fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien's books.

Judge Philip S. Guttierez also found that Global Asylum's movie was likely to cause some confusion among consumers, based in part on research Warner commissioned by Nielsen NRG. Specifically, the use of the word "Hobbit" in the title of Global Asylum's movie caused people to associate it with Warner, MGM, "The Lord of the Rings" or "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

The ruling marks the first time that Burbank-based Global Asylum, which has made hundreds of "mockbusters," has had a movie's release blocked by the court. Prior litigation, such as one by Universal Pictures over a knockoff of the studio's "Battleship," titled "American Battleship," has been settled out of court. (In that case, Global Asylum changed the name of the movie to "American Warships.")

Guttierez scheduled a hearing for Jan. 28 to determine whether the temporary restraining order should become a preliminary injunction.

But much of the damage will have already been done, as Global Asylum will have missed the opportunity to release its movie on DVD and online at the same time that "The Hobbit" hits theaters. Global Asylum and other makers of knockoff films typically count on "drafting" off the hefty theatrical marketing campaign of a major Hollywood studio.

After Warner sent a cease-and-desist letter Aug. 31, Global Asylum changed the design of some promotional materials for "Age of the Hobbits." However, it refused to take the word "Hobbit" out of the title of its picture, which cost about $500,000 to make.

The partners who run Global Asylum said they continue to believe their movie is "authorized and protected under the law" and issued the following statement:

"We continue to believe that this frivolous lawsuit was filed to divert attention from the adverse publicity and poor reviews received by 'The Hobbit' movie. The TRO is a temporary setback. We will have the opportunity to present our own market research study and other evidence on January 28th to rebut plaintiffs’ contention that anyone would confuse our DVD with their theatrical movie."

Warner Bros. said in its own 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."

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Low budget knock-off movies benefit from Hollywood blockbusters

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