The rights to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are a maze. And it affects what ‘The Rings of Power’ can count and not

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Let’s face it: the rights to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are a real mess. Never has such a brief work generated so much legal controversy: and that we are not talking here about something very convoluted. Merely, as we know, it consists of a trilogy of books (functioning as one, ‘The Lord of the Rings’), an independent book deeply linked in plot to the trilogy (‘The Hobbit’), a selection of stories they read like a kind of mythopoetic essay (‘The Silmarillion’) and a few additional stories and notes, which do not make up anything unitary.

First Age of rights. However, not everything was always so complicated. The Tolkien Estate originally managed the rights to Tolkien’s work, primarily under the subsidiary The Tolkien Company, which has come to be run by the author’s son, Christopher Tolkien, and his grandson, Michael George Tolkien. One would think that under a company that supervised the entire issue of rights, the issue would run tied and well tied, but no.

The worldwide rights to almost all of Tolkien’s works (including ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’) were sold by Tolkien himself in 1969 (the writer died in 1973) to United Artists for ten thousand pounds, an amount not very high, and which has subsequently led to some resentment on the part of the writer’s heirs. The producer Saul Saentz (responsible for prestigious films such as ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, ‘Amadeus’ or ‘The English Patient’) would buy those rights in 1976 (although United Artists retained the distribution rights), founding Tolkien Enterprises to exploit them.

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These rights can inspire video games, merchandising, plays, movies and theme parks, but they are not allowed to include explicit content (the setting is another story, of course) from Tolkien’s other two works, ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘Unfinished Tales of Numeror and Middle-earth’, both published after Tolkien’s death. The Tolkien Estate retains the rights to these two works. Tolkien Enterprises (later renamed Middle-Earth Enterprises) also doesn’t have the rights for series longer than eight episodes, which is the other loophole Amazon has slipped through.

The first exploitations of these rights were, in 1978, the memorable and incomplete animated version of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ directed by Ralph Bakshi. Among the most notable spin-offs was the famous 1984 traditional role-playing game released by Iron Crown Enterprises. Things settled down until the Peter Jackson adaptations produced by New Line Cinema arrived.

When Jackson traveled to Middle Earth. When he shot his trilogy, Peter Jackson had been obsessed with adapting ‘The Lord of the Rings’ for decades. After filming “Get Me Those Ghosts,” Jackson asked his agent to track down the rights. At the time, Jackson was under contract to Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax, which also had dealings with Zaentz for the highly successful production of “The English Patient.” Jackson’s project at the time consisted of a single trilogy: one film for ‘The Hobbit’ and two for ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

Negotiations were complicated when Weinstein wanted to keep Zaentz out of the production and buy the rights to exploit them themselves. Jackson was already working on pre-production, and the rights were finally secured thanks to the intervention of Universal (who wanted Jackson to direct a new ‘King Kong’), and who would co-distribute both films. The rights to ‘The Hobbit’ would ultimately remain held by Tolkien Enterprises.

Ultimately, that ‘King Kong’ remake would be postponed until much later, and Miramax got the rights to Tolkien after six weeks of arduous negotiations. Then came pre-production that would last several years, in which Jackson fought Winstein, who wanted profound changes in the project and reduce the bilogy to a single film. Finally, and owning the scripts and designs, Jackson reached an agreement with New Line with the happy results that we know.

More Dark Lords. In 2017, Amazon announced that it had acquired the rights to The Lord of the Rings. In the background of that pact was a lawsuit that the Tolkien Estate had filed against Warner (owner of New Line Cinema) for not receiving a sufficient percentage of the box office profits from the Jackson Trilogy. One of the points of the agreement they reached was that the rights for a series would be offered to platforms such as Prime Video, HBO and Netflix, with a starting point of 200 million dollars that finally amounted to 250 (before spending anything on production). .

Jeff Bezos himself, a fan of the books, supported this purchase, convinced that it was a perfect way to compete with ‘Game of Thrones’, and Warner Bros. Television, a hypothetical co-producer for the reasons specified above, abandoned the project . Prime Video began writing the scripts, which contrary to what has been said, cannot adapt ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘Unfinished Tales’ (nor, of course, the rights to the original trilogy and ‘The Hobbit’, which Warner retains), but rather has a somewhat vaguer scope.

But… what exactly does it fit? Tolkien scholar Tom Shippey, who oversaw the early development of the series, he claimed that the Tolkien Estate had only given Amazon permission to set its story in the Second Age of Middle-earth, more than three thousand years before the Third, where Jackson’s films are set. That’s not to say there aren’t major events at that time: Sauron’s resurgence, the forging of the Rings of Power and the One Ring, the war of the elves against Sauron, and the villain’s defeat in the War of the Last Alliance. , where he lost the One Ring.

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The movies explore the destruction of the One Ring, but before that we’re told that Galadriel was one of the three elves to receive a ring from Sauron. However, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’ will not show any of it because of the rights that intersect, so he has no choice but to take that context and tell stories that do not exist literally in the Tolkien’s work. ‘The Silmarillion’ and ‘Unfinished Tales’ can be used as background (the Tolkien Estate insists that it cannot change the structure or key facts of the Second Age), but without expressly retelling the stories already created.

In other words: Amazon can invent whatever it wants, as long as it doesn’t contradict anything Tolkien created. That’s the multi-band deal that Prime Video has gotten into, a veritable “minefield” as Shippey described it, and which ultimately boils down to a no-brainer: Amazon has paid to use a brand. Only that, in addition, he has also bought a barbed wire in which to wrap himself and make the croquette. Incidentally, Middle-Earth Enterprises is now owned by Embracer, so the legal tangle is far from cleared up.

Let’s face it: the rights to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are a real mess. Never has such a brief…

Let’s face it: the rights to ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are a real mess. Never has such a brief…

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