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.”