Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Tolkien Estate not to blame for Buttongate

I'm not going to say I told you so, mostly because I... didn't tell you so, and it would be fallacious of me to claim otherwise. However, I maintain that the gist of my argument - that one shouldn't immediately blame Christopher Tolkien for all the challenges made by the multi-media empire which has arisen from The Lord of the Rings franchise - is sound, because according to one of the Tolkien estate's lawyers, the Tolkien Estate apparently had nothing to do with the recent controversy regarding buttons. So nyeh.

This morning I heard from Steven Maier, partner at the Oxford law firm of Manches LLP, on behalf of the Tolkien estate. He wrote to say that the estate was not involved in Zazzle's takedown of a badge reading "While you were reading Tolkien, I was watching Evangelion." According to Maier, "Zazzle has confirmed that it took down the link of its own accord, because its content management department came across the product and deemed it to be potentially infringing."

Which is odd, because Adam Rakunas's post on the subject implied that Zazzle had told him they'd written on behalf of Tolkien's heirs. I've written to both Rakunas and Zazzle for an update.

I suspected Zazzle was more to blame than this, simply because you hear a lot about companies taking down content as a preemptive measure against claims of copyright infringement.  They're so anxious that a claim could be made that they do it themselves.  You see it all the time on Youtube.

That said...

I'm sorry for misidentifying the Tolkien estate as responsible for this inanity. While they have used copyright threats to censor at least three novels tangentially involving Tokien's characters or personage (that I know of), this button wasn't their fault, it was Zazzle's.

For Christ's sake, could they have picked a more loaded word than "censor"? I'm aware of The Last Ringbearer and Mirkwood, but what's the third one?  And can they really be considered only tangentially involving Tolkien's characters or personage?

Again, I'm not commenting on the moral/ethical/whatever rights of the Tolkien estate to protect the creation of a man who's been dead for almost 40 years, but I strictly believe that in the eyes of the law, they have a fair point.


  1. zazzle removed a shirt I had up with the word cylon on it.

  2. This is way over my head, and I don't want to give sites unnecessary hits (attention, in other words), so here's this stuff among the comments.

    Adam Rakunas:

    It's no implication: Zazzle Content Review told me "We have been contacted by The JRR Tolkien Estate, and at their request, have removed the product from the Zazzle Marketplace."

    I've posted the entire email exchange here:


    Maybe Zazzle was contacted by Tolkien's legal team at Manches LLP, on behalf of the estate but without its direct knowledge of this incident. Assume that Manches has been given by the estate the general mission of protecting Tolkien IP, and represents that they are speaking for it, hence Zazzle's perception that they were "contacted by The JRR Tolkien Estate". Later, an Internet ****storm ensues, and to redirect some of the ill will away from the estate, it becomes advantageous to reframe the situation and stop saying "we are Tolkien" and start saying "umm, no, actually, we're separate from Tolkien, although we do for now represent them in their IP interests."

    If that were the case, it would be an awfully familiar story.

    I know that there's law relating to "Duties of Agent to Principal". I wonder about "Responsibilities of Principal for Actions of Agent".

    And apparently the button is back up on the site?

    Call me biased, but I'm disinclined to sympathize with those who describe Christopher Tolkien's work as merely "milking his dad's stuff". And call me sentimental, but there's his age... the man is almost as old as Christopher Lee. Hearing about the "multitude of online heroes looking for ways to subvert and taunt the Tolkien Estate for their silliness" makes me sad for him, at least. Just how involved is he right now, even?

  3. but the damage, unfortunately is done.

    between this and the books, Tolkien estate is the second coming of Metallica...