Does Re-Imagining Lord Of The Rings From The Perspective Of Mordor Violate Tolkien's Copyrights?

from the will-we-find-out? dept

Slashdot recently pointed us to a Salon book review of a re-imagining of Lord of the Rings from the perspective of the "losers" in Mordor. The book, entitled The Last Ring-bearer was written by a Russian paleontologist, who has offered up a free download of the English translation.
In Yeskov's retelling, the wizard Gandalf is a war-monger intent on crushing the scientific and technological initiative of Mordor and its southern allies because science "destroys the harmony of the world and dries up the souls of men!" He's in cahoots with the elves, who aim to become "masters of the world," and turn Middle-earth into a "bad copy" of their magical homeland across the sea. Barad-dur, also known as the Dark Tower and Sauron's citadel, is, by contrast, described as "that amazing city of alchemists and poets, mechanics and astronomers, philosophers and physicians, the heart of the only civilization in Middle-earth to bet on rational knowledge and bravely pitch its barely adolescent technology against ancient magic."
Sounds fascinating.

Of course, it also raises some copyright questions. The Tolkien estate is notoriously over-protective of Tolkien's copyrights, and while the Salon review brushes over the copyright issues, it appears that there's some stirring among Tolkien rightsholders to potentially go after this book. If they do so, they may run into trouble. The scenario seems remarkably similar to the case of The Wind Done Gone, a retelling of Gone With The Wind from the perspective of a slave in the original work. That book went through a big legal dispute and was eventually seen as legal, though the case was settled, rather than leading all the way to a full ruling on the topic.

In an era of growing "fan fiction," which can often go quite beyond the bounds of the stereotypical "fan fiction," this issue is going to become more and more important, and it's about time that the courts made it clear that such rewrites are perfectly legal reimaginings that do not violate anyone's copyright.

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  1. identicon
    Mark Christiansen, 22 Feb 2011 @ 9:44am

    We lose a lot ...

    We lose a lot by allowing copyright to cover characters and settings. Were copyright narrower, confined to the work itself we would have many sequels, prequels and variations on successful settings such as Tolkein's Middle Earth. Of course many would be bad but many would be good. Clearly none should be allowed to pass themselves off as the original author's own work. That isn't so much a matter of copyright as proper attribution and perhaps trademark.

    Consider classic old mythology stories. They come from many authors working the same characters and settings. Modern copyright law forbids this to our loss.

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