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November 27, 2006
What Does IP Have To Do With Who Directs "The Hobbit"?
Forgive me, this is a little bit convoluted. I don't really follow the entertainment news, but I do read comics. So when a popular Web comic like Dork Tower goes out of its way to lambaste a particular bit of pop news I figure I should see what all the foofawrawr is about.
Near as I can make out, Peter Jackson was expected to make a movie of The Hobbit for New Line Cinema. No big surprise there - he made a kajillion dollars (about USD 3 billion, from public reports of the global box office take) doing fabulous movies of the three Lord of the Rings books. He is particularly beloved by many fans who felt it only natural he be brought back to direct The Hobbit, a prequel to the LOTR story. So far, so good.
Then on the 19th of this month Jackson's letter was posted on a major fan Web site indicating that he would be off the project that potentially involves both The Hobbit and another prequel movie. Apparently this is due to the ongoing dispute between Jackson and New Line Cinema over income from merchandising on the LOTR films. It makes a certain kind of sense - you don't want to get into another complex and long business arrangement with someone that you're going to court against.
So what does all this have to do with IP? Well, it turns out that New Line don't actually own the rights to make these films. Those rights are held by an entity called "Tolkein Enterprises", a company formed in 1976 by producer Saul Zaentz. That company leased the rights to New Line, and lookee lookee, that lease runs out in less than a year.
This may matter because Zaentz himself is a Peter Jackson fan. Some weeks before this all erupted he gave an interview in which he is quoted as saying that The Hobbit "... will definitely be shot by Peter Jackson." Although he hasn't commented recently, fans are interpreting his remarks to mean that he would not be willing to re-lease the rights to New Line if Jackson was not involved. My guess is that the contract probably has some clause that says the rights will auto-renew if the movie is in production.
So this is how the dominos fall: New Line is under pressure to start production on the movie due to rights, but doesn't want to settle quickly with Jackson on the merchandising suit. So they'll probably start production with another director and piss off 80% of their fan base.
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