Trademark row with US corporation sees tiny Scottish glamping site drop the name 'Hobbit'

A farmer who turned a parcel of his land into a unique off-grid glamping site in an effort to diversify has been embroiled in a legal wrangle with a powerful American film and merchandising company.

Jamie Menzies is proud to be the second generation of his family to rear mixed livestock at Mid Clochforbie near the Banffshire coast.

He fell in love with the idea of living in a small hut overlooking water during a stay in Zimbabwe 25 years ago and set his sights on creating his own haven and improving the farm’s cashflow.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Mr Menzies spent 15 years creating three stocked trout ponds, landscaping and planting hundreds of trees before creating his site, where holidaymakers can stay in yurts, wooden wigwams, a bothy and what is described as “a cabin in the woods”.

Off-grid: Power is generated by water wheel and solar panel at the Shepherd's Loch.

However, it is the Otter House, complete with a distinctive round window similar to those seen in the JRR Tolkien movies, which sparked controversy and a flurry of legal correspondence.

Mr Menzies, whose site close to Turriff is managed by South Africa-born Mimi Uys, originally named it the Otter Hobbit House and online advertising caught the attention of The Saul Zaentz Company (SZC), which is the parent company of Middle-earth Enterprises and holds the worldwide rights to Lord of the Rings and other JRR Tolkien-related names and merchandising.

In an initial shot across his bows, Mr Menzies, whose glamping and camp site trades as The Shepherd’s Loch, received a letter from a London legal firm threatening dire action if he did not alter the name by last week.

At first determined not to bow to pressure, he quickly realised a court case over trademark could cost tens of thousands of pounds and has now renamed the hut as the Otter House.

Fishing for your dinner at Shepherd's Loch

Mr Menzies is currently stricken with Covid-19 and was unable to discuss the wrangle, but Ms Uys said: “It was all so unnecessary when you think of what is happening in the world just now. Surely there are greater issues for people to concern themselves with?

"Lambing has just about started and then there will be the cows and the pigs. It’s a busy time and we really did not needs this hassle just before we open again for visitors on 1 April .

“We did not intend to make money out of using the name Hobbit. In fact not one visitor who came last season said anything about being a Tolkien fan. It was families with kids who wanted to spend time staying in something unique.

"We’re hardly a big name. Our power is provided by a water wheel and solar panels and the entertainment for kids is swimming and fishing in our lochs. We are a throwback to simpler times."

Jamie Menzies and his mother Monica on the family farm.

Ms Uys continued: “We have taken the name Hobbit off our website because that was the big issue and we could not afford for them so sue. So they snapped their fingers and we had to jump. It all seems a bit over the top to us."

Amid the legal row, the SZC, which is based in Berkley, California, is reportedly considering selling its Tolkien rights for an estimated $2 bn.

The company previously took action over The Hobbit pub in the Bevois Valley area of Southampton, which led to it being defended by Lord of the Rings star Sir Ian McKellen and Stephen Fry. That row was resolved when the pub’s owners paid an undisclosed licence fee to SZC.

SZC and their legal representatives failed to respond to requests for a comment.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.

 0 comments

Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.