David Kershaw
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I was clearing out my wargame cupboard, well actually I was looking for something, but never mind.

Anyhow, I came across a hex map I made some 20+ years ago showing the Tolkien lands of Middle Earth. I had started to make a wargame, for fun and at a smaller/quicker scale than the existing 1977 War of the Ring.

Now, older, but not much wiser, I was thinking about having another go at it, but do it as an Android mobile phone app (I've already done several wargames in Android under DK Simulations).

Question is... as per the title: "if I do a game based on Middle Earth will I get sued?"
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If you are planning to make money off it you will likely get a "cease and desist". Why not rename the world/characters etc. and create a new world?
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David Boeren
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Yes, I would expect to get sued if you release it.
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John "Omega" Williams
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If you try to publish it.

Yes.

Very sued. The Tolkien Foundation or whomever holds the rights now has been known for this problem. It even resulted in the total kill off of a game that was in production and well on its way to heading to the shelves when the permissions were yanked and any use of the setting and release of the game was blocked.

Same problem with Dune. Except the Dune lawyers can and will go after fan made game worlds. Such as the Second Life incident.

If its a free PnP game then you are *maybee* safe. But as allways. Have a fallback plan if someone C&Ds your project.
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Certain aspects of the world (fantasy setting, the races of elves, orcs, etc.) are so widespread and generic that they are in the public domain -- just look at how many games use those same fantasy races!

Specific names and locations (Middle Earth, Galadriel, etc.) are almost certainly trademarked by the Tolkien estate and would land you in a bit o' trouble if you published a game using them. The estate is somewhat known for actively enforcing its intellectual property rights.

I am not a lawyer, etc. etc.
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Short answer, yes, if it's set in Middle-Earth. I believe the Tolkien estate (Christopher Tolkien in particular) is hugely protective of their properties.

But no, if you recast the setting sufficiently. "Tolkienesque" describes pretty much all mainstream fantasy since the 1960s. </exaggeration> Just having a game set in a fantasy realm where there are dwarves and elves and wizards and orcy things and some sort of object-destruction-themed quest is certainly fine, as long as it's not, you know, "Bingo and Frobozz leave the Squire pursued by nine riders sent by the evil witch-king Shmauron, intending to destroy the One Earring in the fires of Doom Mountain."

For example, when teaching Are You The Traitor?, I always start off by saying "Okay, so we have the Keyholder — that's basically the Ringbearer — and two wizards — one good like Gandalf, one bad like Saruman —..." and so on. The tropes or cliches themselves are public domain, even if the specific names "Ringbearer", "Gandalf", etc. are off-limits.
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Omega2064 wrote:
If you try to publish it.

Yes.

Very sued. The Tolkien Foundation or whomever holds the rights now has been known for this problem. It even resulted in the total kill off of a game that was in production and well on its way to heading to the shelves when the permissions were yanked and any use of the setting and release of the game was blocked.


I believer Warner Brothers hold the rights are they are very keen to sue (or at least threaten) anyone who they think infringes their rights:

Lord of the Rings domain fight enters realms of fantasy

Warner Bros scraps Harry Potter legal actions

Harry Potter IP claim pinned down on the beaches
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IANAL but how off-limits are some of the names? For example, isn't there a Gandalf (a dwarf, IIRC) in some Old Norse writings? Down to who's got the most expensive lawyers, perhaps soblue
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David N wrote:
IANAL but how off-limits are some of the names? For example, isn't there a Gandalf (a dwarf, IIRC) in some Old Norse writings? Down to who's got the most expensive lawyers, perhaps soblue


If you want to name your gun-toting mercenary "Gandolph" because you think the name sounds aesthetically appropriate and fits conveniently into the rhyming Prophecy of the Stars that's central to your backstory, then go for it! Nobody cares.

But if you're doing it because you think it will make players think of Lord of the Rings, will be familiar to players, or will catch people's attention, well then you're pretty much stealing publicity generated from the legally protected application of someone else's idea. You deserve what happens next.

So you have to ask yourself -- not whether its legal or not, but why you want to do it in the first place. If that trail of thought leads back to someone else's product, you're doing something that you already know is wrong. If the decision is made completely independent of someone's product, then you're pretty much okay.
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Maybe you could make it a parody - change the names just enough a la Bored of the Rings
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Rafał Harasimowicz
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David N wrote:
IANAL but how off-limits are some of the names? For example, isn't there a Gandalf (a dwarf, IIRC) in some Old Norse writings? Down to who's got the most expensive lawyers, perhaps soblue

There was also a king with that name - Gandalf Alfgeirsson.
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David Kershaw
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Wow! Thanks all for fast and decisive answers. This is a game that will never see the light of day.
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Martin Plourde
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Why not base your game on dead center earth?
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kerpob2 wrote:
Wow! Thanks all for fast and decisive answers. This is a game that will never see the light of day.


don't give up on an idea just because of theme being locked down.. if you think the game is worth it then spend a little time thinking about a re-theme.. as people have mentioned some things are open to use (elves, orcs, dwarves, wizards etc). There are a lot of open source games systems that are ridiculously similar to middle earth (see D&D pathfinder system) and books that are similar as well. Take a look at some of R E Feist's books (the magician in particular).. they even have a map that looks dubiously like middle earth but different enough to slip passed the rights holders.

if you are not completely set on middle earth but wanted something that people are going to recognise and be drawn to then think about the Cthulhu world. It is now completely public domain so you can use any of it you like without infringing anything. It also has a large following out there (like me) that watch out for new games of that ilk..
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Andy Leighton
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The Grinch wrote:
Maybe you could make it a parody - change the names just enough a la Bored of the Rings


In the UK parody wouldn't be a defence. I think Ireland (the OP's country) may be the same.
 
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andyl wrote:
The Grinch wrote:
Maybe you could make it a parody - change the names just enough a la Bored of the Rings


In the UK parody wouldn't be a defence. I think Ireland (the OP's country) may be the same.


Yeah, wouldn't work in Britain (or in many other European countries). Throughout Europe, artists are given "moral rights" through their copyright laws, something that's absent in US law, part of the reason we can freely make parodies here. So even if you did make it a parody in the US, you'd still get sued in Britain.

Usually it's not worthwhile for the owner of a copyright to go after someone who makes a derivative app, especially if there's very little money being made on it or it's free. But this particular subject is one that the owners (and licensees) will clamp down on in every single case they learn about. They have to, they never want to set the precedent that they've let their rights slide.
 
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kerpob2 wrote:
Question is... as per the title: "if I do a game based on Middle Earth will I get sued?"


It depends on what you mean by "based on". If you want to use the name "Middle Earth" (trademarked) then you'll be liable. If you want to use the maps published in the books (copyrighted) then you'll be liable. But if you draw a map of your own (it can depict Middle Earth as long as you don't copy anything outright) and make sure that you don't use any of the trademarked names, icons and/or then you'll likely get away with it.

Of course, copyright law being what it is you'll still get sued - it's just that you won't be sentenced. Or more likely, you'll get a cease and desist letter.
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Sturv Tafvherd
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Martin518 wrote:
Why not base your game on dead center earth?


Or better: Fringe Island?
 
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Welshmilla wrote:

I believer Warner Brothers hold the rights


I would think that FFG has a bigger stake in this case.
 
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Stormtower wrote:
Welshmilla wrote:

I believer Warner Brothers hold the rights


I would think that FFG has a bigger stake in this case.


Both wrong. The Tolkien Estate holds rights to the works. That will never change, the estate holds those very closely. However, the companies you list have a license from them to use the work in certain formats only (not FFG anymore though, see below). New Line pays enormous license fees from the profits of the movie to Tolkien Enterprises (actually now Middle Earth Enterprises, I believe), but they would hold no claim over a published game.

Therefore, if the OP published a game, he would be sued not only by M.E.E., but Ares Games (NOT FFG, the license has passed to Ares) and possibly GW for violating their license agreement. But only MEE holds rights.

EDIT: I don't think I should have said Ares Games, I think it is actually Sophisticated Games, for WotR and MEQ. There are probably a lot of other games (and video game) companies, too.
 
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Alex Weldon
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My advice on the subject: borrow mechanics, but come up with your own IP. Legal issues aside, using someone else's setting and characters is lame and uncreative... especially something already so tired and overdone as Tolkien.

Make your game, just come up with your own world for it.
 
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Eric Etkin
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Tolkien's work has been so derived and regurgitated over the years, I can't see any reason why you need to set your game in "Middle Earth." Hundreds of fantasy writers have basically written their own version of Lord of the Rings simply by changing a few things and names around - This should work plenty fine for your game. Change the names and geography - the theme/play will be nearly identical. As an added bonus, you'll unshackle yourself from the IP and maybe come up with something more compelling.
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Philip Clayberg
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The Grinch wrote:
Maybe you could make it a parody - change the names just enough a la Bored of the Rings


Goodgulf
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The default setting for fantasy is quite close to Lord of the Rings with the specific names taken out.

But does the world really need another imagination-free fantasy setting?
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