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Russian ‘Rings’ Reworking Popular Among Fans, But Infringes on Copyrights

A Russian reworking of The Lord of the Rings – a sort of alternate history story told from the perspective of Mordor – has been translated into English and made available as a free download, much to the dismay of the Tolkien Estate.

The Last Ring-Bearer, written by paleontologist Kirill Yeskov and translated by a fellow Tolkien fan, was published in Russia in 1999 and is well-known among Russian fantasy fans. According to translator Yrisoel Markov, publishing houses have not been prepared to publish an English translation due to legal concerns; but he was “impressed enough by this work to spend a few dozen lunch hours translating it to English,” and now the novel has been widely downloaded from a number of file hosting sites.

Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, warned that even titles distributed non-commercially must be licensed by the copyright owner (the Tolkien Estate, in this case). Fan fiction, he adds, is not exempt from copyright.

“If the book’s available in English without a licence from the copyright owner, that’s copyright infringement,” he warned.

“To my knowledge, none of us have ever been approached to publish this book,” said David Brawn, estates publisher at HarperCollins, who added that Russia has been operating outside copyright “for years.”

“Online there are lots of infringements which it is extremely difficult to do anything about. When you get something as popular as Tolkien, fans want to create new stories. Most are pretty amateurish. Tolkien himself isn’t around so it’s the estate’s view that it’s best to say no to everything. If you let one in, you’d open the floodgates.”

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  1. theviking says:

    Seriously, fan fiction is subject to copyright? Since when? If that idea gains traction it would be a major blow to fandom.

  2. Well, I can kinda see it from their point of view – that it is still Tolkien’s world and should come under some kind of overall ‘umbrella’ – personally I think it shows how much the publishing industry is struggling to keep up with the changing industry – someone should have approached the author of the fanfic and incorporated it into the larger umbrella.
    I mean, if someone wrote fanfiction of my world and it became super popular I would contact that person and say ‘hey, lets make this work for the both of us’ – because I kinda…still own the world/characters right?
    Anyway, this is just proof its becoming a really complicated area and someone needs to hurry up and understand it before it blows up 😀

  3. theviking says:

    Don’t get me wrong, this particular instance is a little different than your average Star Wars fan film. They are making money off it after all, which isn’t cool without contacting the appropriate people. And I think that applies to merchandise based off the fan material as well due to the fact that specific characters or other imagery would be represented. That I agree is a problem.
    But the way the wording is, it could be used to shutdown things like Born of Hope and Hunt for Gollum or Malukah’s music, all of which meet that popularity test but don’t seek to make any money off of their stuff.
    And don’t tempt me! I might write an Iron Sam story just for kicks! :p