Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tolkien Family No Longer Controlling Tolkien Estate

Christopher Tolkien resigned from the Tolkien Estate on August 29 leaving control of his father's work more or less in the hands of lawyers and other non-family members. The 93 year was one of the leading officers that controlled the rights of Tolkien's work. Other then the movie rights and related merchandise, including video games, the Estate rarely granted rights to others. The movie rights themselves were basically a mistake as the 1969 deal that eventually gave rise to the Peter Jackson movies was done at a time when the concept of Intellectual Property (IP) was still new and not really being exploited in a way we understand today. For example, back then something like coke can didn't have to be hidden on screen nor permission to be used granted in advance. Today showing that same can would require the company signing off on how its used, the story line its shown in, how long its on screen and other details which is why some objects get stickers and other things to hide their logos and other IP attributes).

Christopher Tolkien has long hated the fact his father's work (other family members have indicated they liked the movies) were being re-interpreted by Hollywood. He fairly frequently bashed the Peter Jackson's Middle-Earth movies for not staying close enough to the novels and probably would have tried to revoke that 1969 contract if he could. Instead he simply sued the studio on a number of occasions with the last lawsuit being settled for $80 million - after Christopher Tolkien resigned.

This brings us to why this news matters to Middle-Earth fans. He was probably the one and only blockade preventing the Tolkien works from being exploited for their maximum value by Hollywood and other interested parties. The just announced Amazon TV deal is likely the direct result of his resignation as unlikely he would have signed off on it. I would not be the least bit surprised if the other Estate officers overriding his wishes led to the resignation. What this will mean in the long term remains unknown but I suspect we will see merchandise and other related works showing up in a wide variety of places that was not available before. Whether this turns out for the better for Tolkien's work is too early to say.

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