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I have written and drawn a children's book. It's an adaptation of the Hobbit condensed into 32 pages aimed at 4-8 year olds (can be read to and read by children). I had the book printed for private use (it was a Christmas present) but I would really like to publish it to make it available for others because so many people have asked me. But Tolkien's works are copyrighted.

My question is- can I publish it? And if not, would making name changes be enough, or would it still be an infringement?

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    Welcome to Writing.SE, marts! Please take a look at our tour and help center pages, they're helpful. :) Adapting literature for younger readers (as well as adapting literature for language-learners) is definitely a thing - seen it many times. Not sure how copyright works with it though - I don't believe I've seen any such adaptations of works that weren't yet in the public domain. At any rate, they would be very explicit about it: "Written by X, adapted by Y". – Galastel supports GoFundMonica Aug 15 at 7:35
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    Copyright is similar, yet slightly different, in different parts of the world. It would really help if you Edit your question to indicate what your location is. Your profile says "UK"; is this correct? – a CVn Aug 15 at 9:29
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    Ask a lawyer and do not follow anonymous advice given by laymen on the internet. – user40570 Aug 15 at 12:34
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The Tolkien Estate owns the relevant IP and appears to defend it diligently.

On the Estate's web site, the first question in the Permissions and Requests FAQ asks whether it is "possible to write stories that are set in Middle-earth" and the answer is an emphatic "NO."

I wouldn't touch this with a 10 foot pole, unless you plan to go through the proper channels and get the blessings of any stakeholders.

  • So pretentious and disingenuous of them. Obviously they do and have given permissions to write stories set in Middle-Earth, from Peter Jackson's CG 'eckshun' to multiple absurd videogames to Bezos's fanfic. – aniline Aug 16 at 15:19
  • @aniline I think you'd enjoy this blog post. – Thing-um-a-jig Aug 17 at 18:43
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If the book is clearly based on the Hobbit and uses the names of characters from the Hobbit, you are treading on thin ice. If you wrote your condensation by copying key chunks of text out of the original and basically just cutting a bunch of stuff out, that sounds like pretty blatant copyright violation. If you re-told the story in your own words, told essentially the same story but didn't copy any of the words from the original book, you're PROBABLY safe on copyright grounds but would still be open to trademark violation.

In practice, I am not a lawyer, but publishing a book like this without permission from Tolkien's heirs would be just asking for a lawsuit. You could talk to the copyright owners, but my guess is that given the popularity of "The Hobbit", they'd want a lot of money for permission to use the work.

I'll gladly yield to a copyright lawyer who is familiar with the details of the law and the precedents.

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What do you mean by 'publish'? There is a ton of derivative work on the internet which is pretty much left alone so long as it is not for profit. Fanfiction.net has 57.2K stories spun off from LotR and 12.7K spun off from The Hobbit! I think if you want to distribute your piece, publish it online as a blog post and send people the link and do NOT ask for money.

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