Sunday, February 27, 2011

What Would Gandalf Do?

Oh, oh. I hate seeing a dispute where the guys who I would like to be the Good Guys are on the Wrong Side, but that may be the case here. The estate of JRR Tolkien, managed by his son Christopher (an indefatigable editor of his father's works), is suing an author for inserting Tolkien as a character into his novel. It may turn out that I know a lot less about copyright than I think I do -- in fact, I can just about guarantee that, which is a sort of paradox, although not the sort that will cause the universe to vanish into a black hole, or even keep me up at night, or --

Excuse me. Anyway, I may discover I'm wrong, but at least under American copyright law, I can't see what possible claim C. Tolkien could make to stop this novel. You can't copyright a fact and it would certainly blow my socks off to learn that JRR Tolkien was, in fact, a fictional character. (It would blow off a lot of socks, perhaps more than all the socks that have ever been lost since the invention of the clothes dryer.) Nor could you make a claim for defamation or invasion of privacy, since Tolkien is dead and you don't get to take those legal considerations with you when you go. And it seems the author is not using any of Tolkien's invented characters. So what use of copyrighted material is there? I don't know; it almost sounds like the estate's lawyers are confused about the difference between copyright and trademark, although lawyers ought to know that sort of thing.

So I'll have to add this to my Google News alerts and see how it turns out. Either Christopher Tolkien is making an ass of himself, or I'm going to learn something I didn't know.

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