Recently the Tolkien Estate has gone on a tear against novels it feels infringes on not only the copyright, but the name and likeness of the long-dead author. Now the censorship campaign has extended to buttons one gets at science fiction conventions.
As anyone who has ever attended a science fiction convention knows, a lot of people sell knickknacks with images and sayings on them meant to be witty or otherwise worthy of being bought. These things include T-shirts, buttons and other paraphernalia. This sort of thing is a low level kind of commerce and most copyright holders of literary, TV or film works that are depicted tend to turn a blind eye, even considering such products as free advertising.
Apparently that does not include the Tolkien estate. The guardians of the legacy of J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of “The Lord of the Rings”, have started to take a dim view of anything that even uses the name and likeness of the man without their permission or their getting a piece of the action. This includes a recently published book entitled “Mirkwood” that has Tolkien as a character and depicts a literary mystery concerning his lost works. There is also a retelling of the “Lord of the Rings” written by a Russian author that retells the story from the point of view of Mordor.
Now, the attempt to censor everything Tolkien has extended to buttons one buys in the dealers room of a science fiction convention. The offending button stated: While You Were Reading Tolkien, I was Watching Evangelion. Evangelion is a Japanese anime film the producers of which apparently have no trouble being mentioned on a button being hawked at a science fiction convention.
The author of “Mirkwood” has already filed a preemptive suit against the Tolkien estate to get it to stop threatening him with legal action and financial ruin for daring to mention Tolkien in his novel. It could be that the result of that lawsuit, should it be decided in favor of the author, will serve as a precedence to stop the legal terrorism being conducted by the Tolkien Estate. Just the threat of legal action seems to work most of the time to terrorize people into not selling books, buttons, or whatever that used the sacred Tolkien name.
One suspects that an actual lawsuit, if fought against someone with enough resources to engage in such a thing, would not go well for the Tolkien estate. Their position goes against Fair Use and the US Constitution, as well as the entire genre of historical fiction. Public figures who are yet alive have been depicted in fiction. The Tolkien estate would forbid depicting public figures in fiction even if they are dead. It is an untenable position and needs to be stopped.
Sources: Tolkien estate censors badge that contains the word “Tolkien”, Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing, February 25th, 2011
Fantasy Novel Starring J.R.R. Tolkien Incurs Wrath of the Tolkien Estate, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, February 19th, 2011
The Last Ringbearer: A Mordor-Centered Perspective on Tolkien, Daniel Danahoo, Wired, February 17th, 2011