Middle-earth Enterprises

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Middle-earth Enterprises, formerly known as Tolkien Enterprises, is a trading name for a division of The Saul Zaentz Company, located in Berkeley, California. The company 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.[1]

Background and history[edit]

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 the former Tolkien Enterprises, now Middle-earth 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 (ICE) for role-playing games set in Middle-earth after ICE ceased developing new products for this line. This contributed to ICE filing for bankruptcy in 2001. Tolkien Enterprises then made a new licensing agreement with Decipher Inc. for their Lord of the Rings Roleplaying Game, which published content from 2002–2006.

Principal photography for Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy was conducted concurrently in New Zealand from 11 October 1999 through to 22 December 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, Tolkien Enterprises 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 (EA), 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,[2] producing further titles up to the release of The Lord of the Rings: Conquest in 2009, when the licensing agreement expired.[3] Video game rights then passed to Warner Brothers.[4]

In 2010, the name was changed to Middle-earth Enterprises.[1]

In 2011, Cubicle 7 produced The One Ring Roleplaying Game, a licensed role-playing game set in Middle-earth, in collaboration with Sophisticated Games. While the game featured its own unique rules, Cubicle 7 announced on March 14, 2016, that it would create an adaptation using tabletop gaming rules compatible with Dungeons & Dragons.[5]


As of April 2009, the company's current licensees are as follows.[6]

License disputes[edit]

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.[8][9] The Hungry Hobbit café, located in Birmingham near where J. R. R. Tolkien grew up, was also threatened with legal action in 2011.[10]

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".[11] Tolkien's estate claimed that the defendants' actions had caused "irreparable harm to Tolkien's legacy".

See also[edit]


External links[edit]