Lord of the Rings fan fiction writer sued for publishing own sequel

From The BBC:

A fan fiction writer has been sued by the estate of JRR Tolkien for copyright after publishing his own sequel to The Lord of the Rings.

US-based author Demetrious Polychron published a book called The Fellowship of the King in 2022.

He dubbed it “the pitch-perfect sequel to The Lord of the Rings.”

The court ruled that Polychron must stop distributing copies of the book and destroy all physical and electronic copies.

. . . .

In April 2023 Polychron attempted to sue the Tolkein estate and Amazon, claiming the TV series, Rings of Power, infringed the copyright in his book.

The case was dismissed after the judge ruled that Polychron’s own book was infringing on Amazon’s prequel that was released in September 2022.

The Tolkien Estate then filed a separate lawsuit against Polychron for an injunction to stop The Fellowship of the King from being further distributed.

On Thursday Judge Steven V Wilson called Polychron’s lawsuit “frivolous and unreasonably filed” and granted the permanent injunction, preventing him from selling his book and any other planned sequels, of which there were six.

The court also awarded lawyer’s fees totalling $134,000 (£106,000) to the Tolkien Estate and Amazon in connection with Polychron’s lawsuit.

The estate’s UK solicitor, Steven Maier of Maier Blackburn, said: “This is an important success for the Tolkien Estate, which will not permit unauthorised authors and publishers to monetise JRR Tolkien’s much-loved works in this way.

“This case involved a serious infringement of The Lord of the Rings copyright, undertaken on a commercial basis, and the estate hopes that the award of a permanent injunction and attorneys’ fees will be sufficient to dissuade others who may have similar intentions.”

Link to the rest at The BBC

PG hadn’t heard of the author named in the OP nor could he find out who the author had managed to hire as his attorney.

That said, this was an easy-to-predict slam-dunk win for the Tolkien Estate and its licensees. Mr. Polychron’s actions weren’t even close to any sort of copyright gray area.

Any competent attorney Mr. Polychron might have consulted about his Tolkien “fanfiction” plans would have told the author that it was a really stupid idea. And that it would cause the Tolkien folks roaring into court swinging a legal Thor’s Hammer.

If Mr. Polychron was trying to build his name and reputation in the book business, even a maximum-flashy Manhattan public relations firm would have cost him much less.

9 thoughts on “Lord of the Rings fan fiction writer sued for publishing own sequel”

  1. Bit late to the party as it’s been a hectic end of year, but the lawyer was one Katie Charleston, with her own firm. Eventually she asked to withdraw because Polychron was not responding to (or paying) her. This was the end of August, about the time their case had lost and was about to go to question of attorney fees, and the Court was turning to the matter of the Estate’s infringement suit.

    I would highly recommend people read through the documents, they entertained me a lot over the summer. I know Court Listener has a lot of them freely available. Search the RECAP archive for
    Demetrious Polychron v. Jeff Bezos (2:23-cv-02831)
    The Tolkien Trust v. Demetrious Polychron (2:23-cv-04300)

  2. Calling that manuscript “fanfiction” is an insult to fanfiction everywhere.
    Nothing fan-ish about a commercial product designed to hijack a valid copyright. Let’s not forget he was the one that started the lawsuits.
    Fool isn’t the appropriate term. Malicious idiot is closer but not strong enough.

    • I had the same reaction! While FanFic can sit in a self-created grey zone that isn’t really grey, but as no $$ is involved, most don’t bother to chase them to close them down. There’s often little resemblance in quality or tone from the originals to the FanFic, which more often than not veer into strange combinations like “What if Buffy met Predator?”.

      But from the jump, this guy was an idiot:

      – LotR is still active, including the movies plus TV series, not to mention still selling the books within CP period;
      – He published it with same characters/names, no attempt to disguise or parody;
      – Same series name;
      – Marketed as a sequel; and,
      – Perhaps peremptorily, attempted to sue Amazon for infringing HIM.

      I suppose there is a small chance that some element of his FanFic – a trope, a location, some small element – showed up in Amazon’s series. Enough that a lawyer said, “Well, it’s possible the Amazon stole from his FanFic”, but as others pointed out, the lawyer eventually withdrew when it was clear he had no case.

  3. Another story I saw elsewhere said that the fanfic author was pro se (that is, proceeding without a lawyer anywhere except in California, where they call the same thing in pro per).

    • I wondered about that, C.

      As a former member of the California Bar, I have some understanding about how desperate some California lawyers are to find enough paying clients to avoid bankruptcy. I was actually a little surprised that the author wasn’t able to find some bottom-feeder to represent him.

      I wonder if anybody told the fanfic author that he was certain to lose a case where he was representing himself. And the dangers of him getting dinged for a bunch of the other side’s costs and fees.

      • I was never a member of the California bar. (I will stoop low, just not that low — although after my first profession, perhaps I shouldn’t claim to be so picky.) I have, however, come this close (more than once) to the three-strikes-and-you’re-doomed-to-another-bar-exam nonsense for appearing pro hac vice as out-of-state counsel, and consulted on other matters in litigation, arbitration, and otherwise without ever appearing. So:

        The initial filing(s) in both cases (Polychron’s infringement lawsuit, and the Tolkein estate’s countersuit) appear to have been done by a solo practitioner in Huntington Beach, who has been licensed for 15 years or so. That counsel withdrew on motion, but only long after the result was inevitable. So at least by the end, Mr Polychron was proceeding in pro per — and the way the motion practice to withdraw was done in the two cases indicates that, more probably than not, the client was… less than forthcoming with client’s own counsel on the underlying facts and documents. So it’s really the worst of both worlds: A lawyer that should have known better, and a client that was deceiving/failing to cooperate with the client’s own lawyer. That’s worse than the “fool for a client” aphorism.

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