Lord of the Rings fanfiction book causes lawsuit against Tolkien estate - The UpStream

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Lord of the Rings fanfiction book causes lawsuit against Tolkien estate

posted Sunday Apr 23, 2023 by Scott Ertz

Lord of the Rings fanfiction book causes lawsuit against Tolkien estate

Fan fiction can be a challenging space to work within. Technically, you could be violating the copyright of another creator, depending upon the licensing of the original work. Some rights holders don't care - in fact, they encourage fan fiction and extensions of their universe. The estate of JRR Tolkien has long allowed fan fiction in the Lord of the Rings universe, but its recent interactions with author Demetrious Polychron have led to a $250 million lawsuit.

What is fan fiction?

Fan fiction is a form of creative writing where fans recreate and continue stories within an existing universe. This could include expanding on original characters, relationships, or plot arcs. It can also be used to explore alternate universes or provide new perspectives on the same material. Fan fiction is often seen as an expression of fandom because it allows people to feel close to their favorite characters; it is also an example of creativity, as authors can take existing material and use it to create something entirely new. Many fan fiction works are considered high quality and have even been published in their own right.

However, fan fiction is not without its controversies. Some believe that fan fiction may infringe on the original author's copyright while others argue that it can be a form of artistic appreciation and should be encouraged. Some authors may also not appreciate their work being manipulated in this way, as fan fiction can challenge or change their original vision for the work. Finally, some fan fiction works contain explicit content which could be seen as inappropriate by children.

Tolkien and fan fiction

JRR Tolkien and his estate have mostly encouraged fan fiction. There are dozens of websites dedicated to publishing works created by fans of the Lord of the Rings universe, and the estate even publishes some themselves. This is where author Demetrious Polychron's problems begin.

Polychron wrote a story called The Fellowship of the King, which he describes as "inspired by Lord of the Rings and J.R.R. Tolkien {but a} wholly original book and concept." He registered the trademark and copyrighted the work. He then sent a copy of the book to the Tolkien estate looking to work with them for publishing. In fact, he tried twice to work with the estate, which refused to work with him. But, the estate was not interested in publishing the books, so Polychron said that he would publish the 7 book series himself.

Fast forward to 2022 and Amazon's series The Rings of Power, a new story told within the Lord of the Rings universe has premiered to mixed reviews on Prime Video. The series, according to Polychron, bares a number of similarities to the manuscript that he delivered personally to Tolkien's grandson. As such, he has filed a lawsuit against the production and the estate seeking $250 million in damages.

The lawsuit points to a number of similarities, including character names. The claims are a little challenging, as works within an existing universe are likely to overlap. Even the character name, Elanor, which is called out specifically, is a name that already exists in Middle Earth as Samwise Gamgee's daughter.


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