Quite often, we are contacted by fans who wonder:
What is Copyright?
Copyright is a legal concept that applies to original work giving the creator of the work exclusive rights to control its distribution. Copyright lasts for the life of the author and a period of 70 years following the author’s death, after which the work enters the public domain. There are exceptions where a limited amount of material may be used without permission of the copyright owner.
What is a Trademark?
A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of the goods of one party from those of others. A service mark is a word, phrase, symbol, and/or design that identifies and distinguishes the source of a service rather than the goods (like a hotel or restaurant). Some examples include brand names, slogans and logos. The term trademark is often used in a general sense to refer to both trademarks and service marks.
I want to open a business using names from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Do I need permission?
Yes. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and the places, items, characters and events depicted in those books and films represent our intellectual property. To use any of those names (trademarks) as a business name without permission is unlawful.
I want to make and sell merchandise using names, likenesses, quotes, or descriptions from The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings books and films. Do I need to obtain permission or enter into a license?
Yes, permission and a license are definitely required. If you would like to pursue a license, please refer to our Licensing Guidelines Page to see if your business might qualify for a license. We will review your request carefully. We must caution you that we do not enter into licensing arrangements with every interested party, but we will consider carefully whether your business is a good fit for our brand and we will respond in a timely manner.
Am I allowed to sell the product for three years before I apply for the license?”, the answer is no.
Middle-earth Enterprises’ requires you to have three years of business experience producing and shipping a product like the one you are proposing to sell but that is not using Tolkien assets.
For example, you want to make a brooch based on the Elven leaf as depicted in the LOTR films, or as described in the LOTR books; and
I want to publish a book using characters, places, and things from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Can I do that without permission?
While there exists a lively community of fans online and elsewhere who write and share their own stories based around elements from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, as fans, they are entitled to do so. However, publishing such works for sale requires permission from HarperCollins Publishers.
Please direct such inquires to:
Harper Collins Publishers Permissions Department
1 London Bridge Street, London SE1 9GF England
I want to make a film utilizing characters, places, and things from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Do I need permission?
Yes, Permission is required. However, at this time the film rights are held under an exclusive option and therefore are not available for any other production company.
What if I want to make a fan film, for showing at festivals and fan events free of charge?
Please submit a request for the right to make a fan film, for review by both New Line Cinema and Middle-earth Enterprises. We will respond as quickly as possible.
I want to write and stage a play based on The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Do I need permission or a license?
Yes, permission and a license are required to write and stage an original production based on these works.
I want to stage a play that has already been adapted from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Do I need permission?
Yes, you must obtain the right to perform the adaptions through Middle-earth Enterprises. We are glad to advise you if the performance rights you seek are held by a third party, in which case we will provide you contact information.
I want to sell my handmade jewelry on Etsy. I want to make the One Ring and Galadriel’s ring -- can I do that without a license? Etsy has a million listings for goods based on The Lord of the Rings, so I think it must be ok.
Etsy does list items for sale based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and believe it or not, all but four of those listings are unlicensed. We have asked Etsy to comply with trademark laws and remove the unlicensed goods from the Etsy Shops, however they claim they do not have the ability to stop unauthorized listings. Currently there are just four legitimate licensees of Middle-earth Enterprises selling on Etsy: Grumpy Geeks, Badali Jewelry, Oscha Slings and Shire Post Mint. We love their work and we hope you will too. You will find links to their webshops on our Current Licensees page.
I want to name my dog Frodo is that ok?
Answer: Yes, of course!
My dog Frodo loves to eat. I’d like to start a dog food line named Frodo Baggins Bag of Dog Food Delights. May I do that? I’d be naming the business for my dog, not for the other more famous Frodo Baggins, therefore do I really need permission to make a business using my dog’s name?
Yes, you do need permission. Naming your dog Frodo is not a trademark infringement. However, once you decide to create a commercial enterprise using your dog’s name which also happens to belong to another business (ie Middle-earth Enterprises), as a trademark, you will need permission from the trademark owner to name your business using the same name as their trademark. (Imagine if you’d decided to name your dog Coca-Cola or Mickey Mouse or Harry Potter.) Trademark law is set up in this way to help eliminate confusion in the marketplace, so that the consumer does not mistakenly believe that the dog treat they purchased has been licensed by Coca-Cola, Disney, J.K. Rowling or Middle-earth Enterprises when it has not.
The Licensing Guidelines tell me to be in business for three years before submitting an application, does that mean I should use the Tolkien trademarks and inspiration of the Tolkien works in my business offerings for three years before applying for a license?
No. Let’s suppose your business is designing and selling t-shirts and you would like to sell LOTR branded t-shirts of your own design. You must be in the business of selling your own designed t-shirts for at least three years before submitting an application. However, during that time the t-shirts you design and sell should not utilize any trademarks or inspiration from the Tolkien works (or any other unlicensed intellectual properties). Once you have at least three years of experience making and selling high quality t-shirts, please follow our application guidelines. The same process applies to those selling mugs, collectible coins, opening a restaurant, etc. etc. or anything else based upon the Tolkien works. In all cases, we will carefully review your application, and the quality of the offerings your company has created and sold.
If I haven’t had a reply from Middle-earth Enterprises, can I consider my request approved?
No. If you haven’t had a reply from us in a timely manner, (4-6 weeks) your request may have not reached us.You may send a follow-up request. We suggest you never assume your proposal has been received, granted or accepted. If your proposal is granted you will hear from us first!
Still have questions? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted with Permission, Courtesy of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO))