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  • Writer's pictureDavid Baker

Don’t tell, Frodo. It’ll just upset him.

There’s another “Lord of the Rings” lawsuit on file.


The fellowship of the ring adventured across the map of Middle Earth and fought through a host of orcs, giant spiders, and the hordes of Sauron, but somehow they managed to avoid finding themselves unarmed, slightly perplexed, and seated at counsel table in the dreaded Central District Court of Mordor, the venerable J.J. Sauron presiding judge.

Nevertheless, the estate of the famed fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien finds itself embroiled in yet another lawsuit over the rights to the valuable IP franchise he created years ago and Hollywood has milked for the last several decades. More specifically, the Tolkien Estate has accused author Demetrious Polychron of writing and selling an unauthorized sequel of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy as alleged in a copyright lawsuit filed in Los Angeles federal court.

The lawsuit comes after Polychron filed his own lawsuit for copyright infringement against the Tolkien Trust and Amazon Inc. in April, alleging that they infringed the copyrights to his sequel after the tech company released the TV series “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.”

The estate first learned that Polychron was selling the sequel called “The Fellowship of the King” online in March and later sent a cease-and-desist letter, according to the complaint filed Thursday. Polychron had written letters to J.R.R. Tolkien’s grandson Simon to pitch a written sequel to the trilogy beginning in 2017, although the estate reiterated its policy of not licensing writers to create sequels, the complaint said.

Allegedly, the estate attempted to schedule a call with Polychron to resolve the dispute earlier this year, the filing said, but he continuously postponed and claimed to be “bedridden” due to a serious illness.

“Plaintiffs were therefore surprised to discover that, on the same day Defendant claimed to be physically incapable of correspondence, Defendant had in fact filed a lawsuit in this District Court against the Tolkien Estate and others,” the complaint said.

Polychron’s suit claimed that while his book was “admittedly inspired” by “The Lord of the Rings,” he had developed a wholly original book and concept, which the estate and Amazon then used for the 2022 TV series set in the same fantasy universe as the original trilogy.

According to the complaint, the sequel “incorporates an astonishingly wide range of copyright-protected elements from the Tolkien Canon,” the estate’s complaint said. Among them are15 poems or other passages copied verbatim, hundreds of the original’s characters, and the recycling of the entire plot premise of the trilogy.

The complaint also cited numerous online reviews of the sequel indicating that readers were aware that it is an unauthorized derivative work.

The case is captioned and numbered The Tolkien Trust v. Polychron, C.D. Cal., No. 2:23-cv-04300, 6/1/23.

What is all the fuss over The Lord of the Ring?

As most of us know, The Lord of the Rings is a fantasy novel written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is set in a fictional world called Middle-earth and follows the epic quest of a group of characters to destroy a powerful ring and defeat the Dark Lord Sauron.

The story begins with the discovery of the One Ring by the hobbit Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien's earlier novel, "The Hobbit." The ring has immense power and allows its wearer to control and dominate others, but it also corrupts and consumes those who possess it. The protagonist of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo Baggins (Bilbo's nephew), is entrusted with the task of destroying the ring in the fires of Mount Doom, where it was originally forged.

Frodo embarks on a perilous journey, accompanied by a group of companions including other hobbits, a wizard named Gandalf, men, elves, and dwarves. Along the way, they encounter various challenges, battles, and conflicts as they strive to reach Mount Doom and fulfill their quest. The story explores themes of friendship, heroism, sacrifice, power, and the struggle between good and evil.

The Lord of the Rings has had a significant impact on the fantasy genre and has gained immense popularity through its books and subsequent adaptations, including a highly successful film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson.

Previous LOTR litigation

And the series has not been a stranger to litigation. For example,

  1. J.R.R. Tolkien vs. Ace Books (1967): J.R.R. Tolkien and his publisher, George Allen & Unwin, filed a lawsuit against Ace Books for publishing an unauthorized paperback edition of The Lord of the Rings in the United States. The case was settled out of court, with Ace Books agreeing to pay royalties and cease publication of their unauthorized edition.

  2. J.R.R. Tolkien Estate vs. New Line Cinema (2008): The Tolkien Estate, representing the heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien, filed a lawsuit against New Line Cinema, the production company behind Peter Jackson's film adaptations of The Lord of the Rings. The lawsuit alleged that the Tolkien Estate was not adequately compensated for the films' merchandising and that New Line Cinema had breached its contract. The parties eventually reached a settlement, the terms of which remain undisclosed.

  3. HarperCollins vs. Warner Bros. (2012): HarperCollins, the publishing company that holds the publishing rights to J.R.R. Tolkien's works, including The Lord of the Rings, filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. and its subsidiary New Line Cinema. The lawsuit claimed that Warner Bros. had infringed the copyright by licensing various merchandise and digital products without the proper authorization. The case was settled in 2013, and the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.

It's worth noting that these lawsuits primarily involved disputes over publishing rights, film rights, and merchandising agreements rather than the content or storytelling of the series itself.

As for the current lawsuits, it may well be years before anything is resolved. Meanwhile, there should be plenty of time for adventuring. Unless, of course, you're a hobbit who prefers to stay home and enjoy the quiet life of The Shire.

Why It Matters.

Having permission to draft a sequel to a popular book series authored by someone else is important for several reasons:

Legal considerations

The original author or their estate holds the rights to the intellectual property, including the characters, settings, and storylines. Without permission, writing a sequel could be a violation of copyright law, leading to legal consequences.

Maintaining the integrity of the story

The original author created the world, characters, and plotlines in their book series. By obtaining permission, the writer ensures they have the blessing and support of the original author or their estate, which helps maintain the integrity of the story and its universe. This can help ensure that the sequel remains true to the spirit of the original work and adheres to the established lore.

Respect for the original author's vision

Getting permission to write a sequel shows respect for the original author's creative vision. It acknowledges that the author's work is valued and that the sequel is intended to build upon their ideas rather than appropriating them without consent.

Collaboration and guidance

Permission to write a sequel often involves collaboration with the original author or their estate. This collaboration can provide valuable insights, guidance, and feedback, helping the writer create a sequel that is consistent with the original series and meets the expectations of the fans.

Fan reception and acceptance

Fans of the original book series invest emotionally in the characters and the world created by the author. When a writer has permission, it helps assure fans that the sequel is authorized and recognized by the original author, increasing the likelihood of a positive reception and acceptance from the fanbase.

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