October 12, 2005

Chris Vs. The Tolkien Holding Company

I feared that it would happen sooner or later. CafePress suspended most of my t-shirt & bumper sticker designs for the Arms of Middle Earth shop. And the only way to get the designs cleared again is to make my case with Tolkien Enterprises and their packs of lawyers.

Now I expected this to happen eventually for some items, but for some brain-dead reason, they also flagged pictures of us dressed as Lord of the Rings characters as "Infringing", as well as pictures of two guys dressed as Pirates of the Carribbean. (That's not even their MOVIE!)

I was up late last night preparing my rebuttal for the lawyers. It wasn't ALL infringing, was it? Okay, I'll start with the Balrog. Tolkien didn't INVENT the Balrog, it's a demon from existing folklore, right? WRONG. Ends up he did create the Balrog, and it became so well-known that it became part of the public perception of demon folklore. "But since it's effectively part of the public domain, shouldn't it be fair use to use the word on a T-shirt?" I reasoned. WRONG. Here's a clip from the Sources of Dungeons & Dragons:
Demon, Type VI (Balor)
Originally named Balrog, it was taken from Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was renamed "Type VI Demon" (with one example being named "Balor") after the Tolkien estate asked TSR to stop infringing Tolkien's copyrights.

Okay, so the lawyers at the firm I'm about to make my case to... convinced the most popular role-playing game of all time to take the Balrog out. And little old me has what kind of chance at succeeding where they failed?

Needless to say, I think I'm going to have to concede the Balrog design. and maybe everything else. I doubt that these lawyers will consider the fact that Arms of Middle Earth has only 200 members, and only about 20 of them have ever bought this potentially-infringing merchandise.


  1. Wow. God help us if you were to do something that would actually INCREASE the interest that people have in the movies! If they're going to be all hard-nosed about this, you might as well sin BIG. Maybe bring back that one about wanting a Hobbit woman with no teeth and a flat head.

  2. Ever thought about asking the help of your brother? Isn't he a lawyer or something?