Middle-earth Enterprises, formerly known as Tolkien Enterprises, is a trading name for a division of the Saul Zaentz Company (SZC) based in Berkeley, California which owns the worldwide exclusive rights to certain elements of J. R. R. Tolkien's two most famous literary works; The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. These elements include the titles of the works, the names of characters contained within as well as the names of places, objects and events within them, and certain short phrases and sayings from the works.
Background and history
J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, sold the film, stage and merchandising rights of those works to United Artists in 1968, who in turn sold them to the Saul Zaentz Company in 1976 which licenses them through Tolkien Enterprises.
In 1978, Tolkien Enterprises and the distributor United Artists funded an animated version of The Lord of the Rings directed by Ralph Bakshi, which covered approximately the first half of the Lord of the Rings.
In 1999, the company severed their licensing agreement with Iron Crown Enterprises for role-playing games set in Middle-earth after ICE ceased developing new products for this line. This contributed to ICE's filing for bankruptcy in 2001. Tolkien Enterprises then made a new licensing agreement with Decipher Inc. for their Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game.
Principal photography for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was conducted concurrently in New Zealand from October 11, 1999 through to December 22, 2000. Produced under license from Tolkien Enterprises and released by New Line Cinema between 2001 and 2003, the films met critical and commercial success. However, in August 2004, TE sued New Line for $20 million in unpaid royalties based on the difference between gross and net profits. An out-of-court settlement was reached in August 2005, though details were not released.
Video game rights to Tolkien's literary works were first licensed to Vivendi, which produced The Fellowship of the Ring in 2002 and The Hobbit in 2003. At around the same time licensing agreements for products relating to the films produced by Peter Jackson were obtained by Electronic Arts, leading to the release of a series of games, starting with The Two Towers in 2002. In 2005 EA acquired the rights to produce games based on the literary works as well, producing further titles up to the release of The Lord of the Rings: Conquest in 2009, when the licensing agreement expired. Video game rights then passed to Warner Brothers.
In 2010 the name was changed to Middle-earth Enterprises.
As of April 2009, the company's current licensees are as follows.
- Video games:
- Other games:
- Decipher Inc. for the trading card (TCG) and roleplaying games
- Games Workshop PLC for a range of miniatures, games (The Lord of the Rings Strategy Battle Game and Battle of Five Armies) and Battle Games in Middle-earth magazine
- Game Systems International Ltd. (Games Systems Inc.) for Middle-earth Play-By-Mail released by Game Systems Inc. and the One Ring module of Legends (PBM) released by Harlequin Games.
- Sophisticated Games for a range of board games
- Mithril Miniatures for a range of 28 mm scale metal miniatures
- U.S. Games Systems Inc. - a Lord of the rings based Tarot card deck and game.
In March 2012, it was reported in various news services that The Hobbit, a public house in Southampton, UK, had been served with papers by Middle-earth Enterprises outlining breach of copyright over the name of the pub. The Hungry Hobbit cafe, located in Birmingham near where J. R. R. Tolkien grew up, was also threatened with legal action in 2011.
In November 2012, the Tolkien Estate, trustee and publishers sued Middle-earth Enterprises (in addition to Warner Brothers and New Line Cinema) for infringing Tolkien's copyrights by producing casino and video games using his characters. The original license to Tolkien's works was limited to the right to sell "tangible" products such as "figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing, and the like", but did not cover "electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services". Tolkien's estate claimed that the defendants actions had caused "irreparable harm to Tolkien's legacy".
- "About". Middle-earth Enterprises.
- Ea Granted Rights to Develop the Lord of the Rings Games Based on J.R.R. Tolkien'S Epic Literary Fiction, 25th July 2005, EA press release gamershell.com
- IncGamers: Tolkien IP License, 23rd February 2009 incgamers.com
- Lord of the Rings game rights now at Warner Bros weblogs.variety.com
- Tolkien enterprises - current licences tolkien-ent.com
- TURBINE AND TOLKIEN ENTERPRISES EXTEND RELATIONSHIP turbine.com
- "Hobbit pub in Southampton threatened with legal action". BBC News. 13 March 2012.
- Brooks, Xan (14 March 2012). "Stephen Fry joins The Hobbit pub's fight with Hollywood". The Guardian.
- "Hungry Hobbit cafe told to change name". BBC News. 21 November 2011.
- "Tolkien estate sues Hobbit producers over video and gambling games". The Guardian. 20 November 2012.