Tolkien Copyright information

Meldarion #2798

With an understanding that most of Tolkien's works were completed, and the books and movies derived from them have been published successfully, I am sure I am not alone in my desire to keep his lineage alive for future generations. The information provided to me by members of this group has been encouraging and educational, indicating the depth and integrity promoted within this website and its members. My concern relates to copyright, the use of Middle Earth descriptions, and the languages he created and recorded in the manuscripts. Would anyone know if the descriptors and use of the languages are copyright protected or where I would find that information? I would be extremely disappointed to find that the months I have spent writing a Tolkien-based book can not be published due to copyright infringements.

Chociewitka #2799

As far I understand the copyright for The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings and all other books by Tolkien himself will expire in 20 years - so most probably within our lifetime. For all others 70 years after their youngest contributing author has died, so e.g. for Silmarillion in 2090 - most of us will not live to see that happen. But I am not sure if grammar can be copyrighted so I do not necessary think that "Quenya" as a concept can be copyrighted per se as it it not a "published work" in itself?

Meldarion #2800

@Chociewitka Thank you very much for the information, but my concerns are for the locations mentioned in the books, IE: Mordor, and other areas mentioned. If the names and locations can be used without copyright infringements, it would allow books to be written to continue the legacy

Cenindo #2803

There have been many discussions over the years, some very bitter, about whether Tolkien's languages and invented words are themselves "copyrightable". Normally, just coining a word does in no way give you any exclusive "ownership" to it; if you don't want others to use it or list it in a wordlist, you must simply keep it secret. Will it be different in the case of an "art language" with thousands of words? No entirely relevant case has been tried before a court, so in one perspective the matter is unresolved.

What we can say is that the Tolkien Estate, that can be a pretty litagious bunch when it suits them, never did crack down on Internet sites (like this one!) cataloguing elements from Tolkien's languages. Some such sites have been online for a quarter of a century, so it is unthinkable that the Tolkien Estate has never noticed them. Perhaps they are not sure of their legal position if they did attempt a crackdown; perhaps there is too little money involved for them to care; perhaps (in the most optimistic view) they even appreciate scholarship regarding Tolkien's languages.

David Salo also published an actual book ("A Gateway to Sindarin") with an Sindarin wordlist included: still no outcry from the Estate. At least as long as things are kept reasonably non-commercial and are scholarly in tone, experience would suggest that the Tolkien Estate will not try to interfere. But of course, you never know.

Meldarion #2804

@Cenindo Thank you for the information; my thoughts align with yours. As I have mentioned to others here in my first inquiry about Elvorals, I am working on a manuscript centered around a continuance with regard to life in Middle Earth. One would think the Estate would be supportive of books propagating Tolkeins works using the foundations he laid. My manuscript offers a preface that begins at the end of the final battle when Eärendel killed Ancalagon the black.

My concern is the usage of names and places on Middle Earth. Just as authors wrote books extending from Starwars, based on George Lucas's books, it was my intent to write a book to commemorate his works and retain the integrity of his creation. Intellectual property can be vague, but they have approved an animated movie to be released in April of 2024, "The War of Rohirrim." from a screenplay by Phoebe Gittins and Arty Papageorgiou, based on LoTR. So I do see hope and a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks again for your response.

Cenindo #2805

You're welcome. But I am still not entirely certain what you want to do. If you are talking about writing fresh fiction explicitly set in Tolkien's world, including places like Mordor or characters like Eärendil, I don't believe you can publish a work like that without the permission of the Estate. In the past they have not been willing to authorize such works. Now we have licenced TV series like "Rings of Power", which is really nothing but elaborate fan fiction spun around a tiny core of "Tolkienian fact." Maybe that suggests a somewhat more forthcoming attitude on the part of the Estate after the passing of Christopher Tolkien (who was VERY protective of his father's legacy). But on this side of 2043, Middle-earth must be regarded as basically off limits when it comes to writing fresh fiction set in it, at least if you want to publish it as an actual book and charge money for it. Sorry to be the bearer of (potentially) bad news.

Meldarion #2806

I can definitely see that point. However, I am sure the Estate would prefer not to allow the legacy and lineage of his works to simply fall into stacks of books forgotten along with the hard efforts of the author. I desire to create a new storyline that would reach future generations with new characters building on the foundations he laid. If new stories are not created, then the books might well have reached a pinnacle, and the excitement created by them will dwindle.

Chociewitka #2810

I do not think Tolkien books are in danger of being forgotten anytime soon and with only 20 years before anyone can print TLOTR without needed to paying the Estate anything they will try to make most of those 20 years left and guard the property.

david wendelken #2940

re: " One would think the Estate would be supportive of books propagating Tolkeins works using the foundations he laid."

The Tolkien estate does not own all the rights to Tolkien's works. Some of the rights were sold to another company, which, from its actions, does not appear to give a rat's ass about the legacy of the works, only the cash they can milk out of it.

A story set in Middle-earth (or in outer space but with a notable character from Middle-earth for that matter) would be copyright infringement. Sorry, that's just the way it is.

Bestest way to get around that is to find a way to make the copyright holders (#1) make lots of money too and (#5) do a good job that would make Tolkien proud.

Or write it and wait for the copyright expiration, which for some of us, means our grandkids would enjoy the revenue from it.

david wendelken #2941

Unless you do a parody. Copyright doesn't protect against parodies.

Or it's scholarly references and relevant excepts for that purpose.