Studios Sue to Stop 'Hobbit' Knockoff


     LOS ANGELES (CN) - The studios behind "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and "The Hobbit" sued a production company that specializes in knockoffs to try to stop release of its straight-to-DVD movie, "Age of the Hobbits."
     Warner Bros. Entertainment, New Line Cinema, New Line Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, and The Saul Zaentz Co. sued Global Asylum aka The Asylum of Burbank, in Federal Court.
     The major studios say Asylum intends to release its low-budget movie just three days before filmmaker Peter Jackson's first "Hobbit" movie opens in the United States, on Dec. 14.
     The Asylum hopes to profit from "consumer confusion," get a "free ride on the worldwide advertising campaign" and "divert customers and potential customers away" from the major studios' film, according to the complaint.
     "The Asylum's advertising for its low-budget knockoff also has been and is confusingly similar to advertising for and images from the plaintiffs' copyrighted films and trademarked products, including the font and style in which the titles appear and the overall look and feel of the images depicted in the artwork and packaging," the 35-page complaint states.
     It notes that Asylum has a history of making "mockbusters," including cash-ins on Hollywood hits "Transformers," "High School Musical," "The Da Vinci Code," and "Sherlock Holmes."
     The knockoffs are timed to coincide with the release of their big-budget counterparts and carry "confusingly similar titles," the studios say.
     "Despite the 'mockbuster' label, these low-budget films do not mock, parody or otherwise comment upon the theatrical motion pictures they imitate," the studios say.
     New Line owns the rights to "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy, based upon J.R.R. Tolkien's bestselling novels. The movies were an enormous success, with combined box office of $3 billion, according to the complaint.
     Jackson produced and co-wrote the first trilogy, and is heavily involved in the making of the new "Hobbit" films.
     With a budget of $2 million, "Age of the Hobbits" cost just a fraction of what it took to bring the first Hobbit movie to the screen. It was shot in two months in Cambodia earlier this year, according to the complaint.
     "The term 'hobbits,' which predates Tolkien's use, has entered the public discourse with a meaning beyond the identity of Tolkien's characters as evidenced by the term used by the scientific community in readily-identifying the diminutive Homo Floresiensis," Asylum spokeswoman Rene Ridinger said in a statement. "Further, it is a legally recognized fair use to employ a trademarked term as a point of reference.
     "The Asylum has produced and released over 100 films and we have been sued twice for trademark infringement. The first action we won outright and in the second we came to a mutually beneficial settlement with a longtime partner," she added. "We like our record on these matters and intend to vigorously defend our rights."
     But the studios seek an injunction against trademark infringement, and damages for false designation of origin, trademark dilution, false advertising, unfair competition and violations of California's Business and Professions Code.
     They are represented by Andrew Thomas with Jenner and Block.