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Lord of the Rings: copyright infringed by One Ring reproductions

Written by Ellis Sweetenham on 28 September 2016

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One of the most well known film franchise, Lord of the Rings, has been in the centre of a copyright infringement claim made in Australia.

A key part of the storyline of the film series is the One Ring.

This Ring has an inscription on it in a fictional language called Black Speech.

In order to capitalise on the popularity of the film and the recognition of this ring, Saltalamacchia a jeweller in Melbourne has made and sold copies of it including the inscription.

This has, however, been stopped by the Tolkien Estate Limited who owns the copyright in the JRR Tolkien Lord of the Rings book series.

The Estate first tried to stop the production and sale of these rings by sending a number of letters to the company explaining the position and demanding the cease of manufacture and sale. These letters were not responded to.

Therefore issuing a claim in the Australian Federal Court, the Tolkien Estate has claimed that the inscription was an artistic work which copyright protects. Therefore they claim that the actions of Saltalamacchia infringed this protection.

In addition to this claim, the Tolkien Estate also brought an action for summary judgment, stating that Saltalamacchia will have no reasonable prospect of successfully defending the allegation.

Saltalamacchia made no counterclaim, only giving the argument that the inscription differed slightly from that in the film as there was a gap in the inscription.

This argument was dismissed by the court, who stated that the inscription on the ring was protected by copyright therefore its use by Saltalamacchia, even with the gap, infringed a substantial part of the copyright protection.

In addition, the Judge gave the summary judgment to the Tolkien Estate agreeing that there was no basis to defend the claim.

Therefore, Saltalamacchia was ordered to:

  • be permanently restrained from reproducing in a material form the One Ring Inscription or a substantial part of it,
  • deliver up to the Tolkien Estate all goods in Saltalamacchia's possession that reproduced the One Ring Inscription, as well as all catalogues, price lists, brochures and other advertising documents and materials;
  • pay the Tolkien Estate damages or an account of profits to be assessed.
  • disclose details relating to the number of the infringing rings purchased or acquired, identity of the vendor of the infringing rings, details of all rings purchased and sold, the purchase and sale price of the infringing rings and the website or medium through which the infringing rings were sold.
  • pay the Tolkien Estate's costs of the proceedings.

While this case was heard in Australia, it is a good indication of how a similar situation would pan out if it were to happen closer to home.

The moral of the story is to not try and ride on the coattails of a famous brand or product otherwise you may find yourself on the receiving end of a large copyright claim. 

If you'd like to know more about this article please send an email to Ellis Sweetenham quoting the article title and any questions you might have, alternatively call the office number on 02380 235 979 or send an enquiry through our contact form.

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