Hobbit Havoc: Fan-fiction Faces the Copyright Eye of Sauron

Background

In 2022, Demetrious Polychron, a US author, created and released his own continuation of the beloved ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series by J.R.R. Tolkien. Following the debut of Amazon’s prequel series ‘The Rings of Power’, Polychron took legal action in April 2023 against both Tolkien’s estate and Amazon. Polychron alleged that their series had used elements from his work, constituting copyright infringement. However, the case brought by Polychron was dismissed after a Californian judge concluded that the author himself had infringed copyright by profiting from a work that directly utilised characters and storylines owned by the Tolkien estate and Amazon.

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The presiding judge remarked that Polychron’s request for copyright protection was “unreasonable” and “frivolous” because his work was completely based on characters from The Lord of the Rings.

In a subsequent turn of events in June 2023, Tolkien’s estate initiated a separate lawsuit against Polychron. Their claim centred on the fact that the author had published a derivative work without the necessary authorisation from the owners of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ intellectual property. The lawsuit against Polychron proved successful, resulting in the presiding judge issuing a permanent injunction against the author.

This injunction prohibits Polychron from publishing or selling his derivative work and mandates the destruction of all existing copies of the author’s work.

Authorship protection in Australia

In Australia, the Copyright Act 1968 (Cth) safeguards published and unpublished books as ‘literary works’. When someone creates a literary work, like a book, they become the owner for a duration of time. This ownership grants them the sole right to copy, publish, modify, or share their work with the public. There is no need for authors to officially register their work to secure copyright protection for it.

For a literary work to gain copyright protection in Australia, a few criteria must be met:

  • the author should be an Australian citizen,
  • the work must have been initially published in Australia, and
  • it needs to be an original creation.

If someone carries out actions that fall within the exclusive rights granted to the copyright owner without their permission, they could be infringing upon the copyright of the original creator. This means reproducing, publishing, adapting, or sharing it with the public can lead to a copyright infringement claim.

If you would like guidance regarding potential copyright infringement or the scope of your copyright protection, please contact us.

Author: Zaki Zeini, paralegal.