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May 24, 2012

Now available: DRM-free pirate LOTR e-text
Posted by Teresa at 09:26 AM * 62 comments

The Flying Moose of Nargothrond’s Tolkien Sarcasm Page, already known for the first-rate synopses on its Tolkien homework page,* now offers a free pirate text version of the entire work.

To quote one of the perpetrators, “Anyone who has an interest in living authors, at least, should illegally copy this anyway because he’s already dead.”

Comments on Now available: DRM-free pirate LOTR e-text:
#1 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 10:42 AM:

Wow, an epic effort, so to speak. May lazy students everywhere benefit from this effort as much they have from the earlier ones!

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:10 AM:

I think it's aimed more at the cheapskates who claim to love fantasy, and want convenient ebook editions of it, but can't be bothered to reward those who created it.

#3 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:24 AM:

Reward those who created it? It's a 60-year-old novel by a guy who's been dead for 40 years. If Disney lobbyists didn't write our copyright law, it'd already be in the public domain.

I don't pirate copyrighted work. But I find it hard to get riled up about this sort of thing.

#4 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:28 AM:

Actually, I lied - I sometimes watch fan subs of foreign shows. So I am also an evil pirate. But I've never stolen a novel.

#5 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:54 AM:

"If Disney lobbyists didn't write our copyright law, it'd already be in the public domain."

Under the laws in effect at the time Tolkien published the work, LOTR would still be under copyright for another 12 years in the UK, and most other places outside the US. But yes, the original edition of The Return of the King (without the appendices and minor revisions of later editions) would have just entered the public domain in the US at the start of this year, joining the earlier volumes.

As the laws atand now, LOTR is scheduled to go public domain in 2044 in the UK and much of the rest of the world, and in 2051 (for the first edition) in the US. Barring further extensions.

#6 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:55 AM:

Don't judge this fine work until you've at least gone and sampled it. Here, let me get that for you. This is pretty much at random:

Slimshade's hooves echoed hollowly on the broad stone-paved path, laid out in enormous flat cobbles, all of them bright clean white and laced with cheerful red veins; it was bordered by thin strips of well-trimmed grass. Beyond them were stone pathways where lines could have formed, and beyond them in turn were stone houses and attractions and souvenir shops. Stone flowerpots stood beside stone doorways and on stone windowsills. Painted stone statues of giant, smiling animals stood along the walkways. Minas Tirith™ had an air of great antiquity and permanence, yet in truth it was year by year falling into decay. In every street they passed, some great entertainment hall or gift shop was silent: empty, or even closed. Over one great gate, Pipsqueak read in strange and ancient characters the name "Ye Hynted Mynsion", but although the wide stone entrance spoke of great crowds and popularity, the courtyard was silent: there was no line.

That's some mighty good piratin' there, fellas.

#7 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 11:56 AM:

DRM-free, good.

Pirate, bad.

I can't say that I approve.

#8 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:05 PM:

Jim, have another look.

#9 ::: Steve Downey ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:06 PM:

"To Those Who Are Concerned: Before reporting this site to the Tolkien Estate as a flagrant violation of copyright, please be sure to read a chapter or two."


"CAUTION! Slight changes from the original text are inevitable. Do not under any circumstances use this as a definitive reference to Tolkien's works."


#10 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:11 PM:

"The Two Powers - Tim and Richard?"

#11 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:14 PM:

The Lord of the Rings Uncut: Director's Cut

(Because it's like that other thing!)

#12 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:18 PM:

"The Return of the Bing - Going My Way?"

#13 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:19 PM:

John @5: "...barring further extensions."

As long as it's more recent than Steamboat Willie, it will never go out of copyright in the U.S.

I'm much less upset with copyright law than I am with, say, patent law. But the notion that a significant work like LOTR that has effectively become part of our culture can still be owned by Tolkien's great-great-grandchildren* a century after his death is strange to me.

What if Chaucer and Shakespeare had never passed into the public domain?

* Or more likely, some holding company.

#14 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:27 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @ 5

Exactly. Back then most countries other than the United States were a party to the Berne Convention. Under the Convention the minimum term for literary works is life of the author plus fifty years. The reason for the term comes from Victor Hugo, who thought works should be able to support the author as well as his or her children and grandchildren (Hugo was a driving force behind the Convention). The EU currently has the longer term of life plus seventy years on the grounds that this longer term gives better coverage to two generations given modern lifespans. The US finally joined the Berne Convention in 1988, and the extension 1998 was justified on the grounds that it harmonized US copyrights with the EU's.

This is just to point out that while the big media companies pretty clearly were acting out of self-interest in pushing the US into longer terms, the framework they wanted the US to adopt wasn't something they just made up, it was one that had existed for over a century. I can't think of a good justification for making the longer terms retroactive, though.

(FWIW, I *much* prefer the defunct American copyright regime.)

#15 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:30 PM:

Xopher #8

I'm sorry, Xopher. I should have looked first. But there are some thing where I've seen the arguments so freakin' often that just a keyword makes me start twitching and gives me a stabby pain behind the right eyeball.

#16 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 12:44 PM:

And my first random look discovered this fine paragraph:

They rode on through sunset, and slow dusk, and gathering night, the monotony relieved only by Giggly asking "Are we there yet?" every five minutes. Gandalf allowed them only a few hours rest after Lego-lass fell out of her saddle and was almost trampled to death. The waxing moon sank into the cloudy west, an important point to remember should you wish to draw up a table of moon positions to prove how wrong the timing of the whole story is.

I do adore meta-comments embedded in the text.

#17 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:06 PM:

Okay, I'm hearing two entirely different arguments about length-of-copyright in the US here. Dave F. says that "anything more recent than Steamboat Willie will never go out of copyright"; heckblazer says that all we've done is match up with EU rules. Can either side provide documentation for their position?

#18 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:30 PM:

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 was suspiciously timed (five years before the earliest Mickey cartoons would have gone into public domain) and extended the copyright term beyond what was standard elsewhere.

There was very heavy lobbying by Disney and many derided the bill as the "Mickey Mouse Protection Act". Ostensibly the bill was pushed by Bono's widow, however.

There are a number of articles still available from the time from business magazines as well as lots of references on Wikipedia; however there is no proof that it was Disney that put the bill over. Congress has always been very media- and copyright-friendly, as evidenced by the DMCA; they probably didn't need all that much prompting.

#19 ::: heckblazer ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:30 PM:

Lee @ 17

I believe Dave F. is sarcastically implying Disney will continue to successfully lobby Congress to extend copyrights whenever their rights are about to expire, with Steamboat Willie being the earliest noteworthy Disney property. I'm not opposed to the sentiment.

#20 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:39 PM:

When I saw the title of this post, I assumed it was about an e-text of the notorious unauthorized Ace Books edition of LOTR. Would e-publishing that edition be legally defensible? (I suspect not).

#21 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 01:44 PM:

One problem with the EU extension was that it had a dual purpose. It extended duration, but it also had to give uniform copyright protection across the whole of the EU. Since some works were out of copyright in some countries and in copyright in others (different publication dates, for instance), the change back to in-copyright did make some sense.

That unusual transition and harmonisation is over and done with.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 02:39 PM:

It's no accident that Congress is pleased to give Hollywood what it wants, and vice-versa. They've been in a binary orbit since the movie industry grew up there.

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 02:41 PM:

By the bye, I don't know whether everyone has already heard it, but Houghton Mifflin declared bankruptcy today.

#24 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:30 PM:


Does this mean that my rant about how the book publishing companies are getting rich off these too-generous copyright terms is going to come off as a little implausible?

#25 ::: Jeremy Preacher ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 03:47 PM:

Teresa #23, a friend of mine who has a book coming out with them in the spring said, upon hearing the news, "I kept telling people my advance was too big!"

#26 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:11 PM:

I tend to agree with Jim ... for now.

When Christopher Tolkein dies, though, I'm going to find it hard to justify paying up to support second-generation posthumous rent-seeking. (Nor would I want my own works to be held to ransom like that, after my immediate heirs have died of old age.)

#27 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:12 PM:


(Does this make me a late April fool?)

#28 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:38 PM:

an e-text of the notorious unauthorized Ace Books edition of LOTR

That edition (many, many years ago) was my first encounter with Tolkien. If I remember correctly there were some significant differences from the authorized text I read a few years later--although perhaps not a drastic as those in the pirate version linked above.

#29 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:46 PM:

Albatross, any statement which includes the character string "book publishing companies getting rich" should be interrogated.

Charlie, I agree about the rent-seeking behavior, no matter which text you're referring to.

#30 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 04:47 PM:

As far as I can tell from here (someone who knows the publishing details of these books correct me if I'm wrong) Christopher Tolkien is a great example of why author's descendants really *don't* need long copyrights to stay out of the poorhouse, at least once they're grown up. He seems to have done quite well with a bunch of follow-on books from and about his father's work, and would continue to enjoy the revenue from those copyrights even if the LOTR copyrights expired on their original schedule.

Around the time of the last big copyright extension, Pete Seeger said "Grandchildren should be able to find some other way to make a living, even if their grandfather did write ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?'" They've often got more options for that than others, since they're already uniquely positioned to come out with "After the Doggie Came Home", or some other suitable follow-on, if they choose.

#31 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 05:04 PM:

Serious question:

Since CJRT drew the maps in his father's books, do they remain under copyright to him - and thus presumably drawing a royalty on every book that includes them - until seventy years after his own death, even after the text of those books has lapsed into PD?

#32 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 05:28 PM:

Dave @31: yes.

Another rather disturbing fact: while the copyright claim is dubious, somebody (Time Warner?) is still collecting royalties on "Happy Birthday".

#33 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 05:31 PM:

I should clarify. Depending on the law at the time and how the copyright notices needed to be phrased, that may or may not be the case. If the notice that appeared on the books is only to JRR Tolkien, then maybe not. If the maps and drawings were added later and attributed to Christopher, then almost certainly.

The irony is that Steamboat Willie itself may not actually be under copyright because the notice was incorrectly formatted, with a different name appearing closer to the word "copyright" than the Disney Corp.

#34 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 05:32 PM:

Dave Crisp: That would depend on such factors as whether the maps were a work for hire, and whether he contracted to his father or the publisher. I think it's unlikely the maps had a separate contract from the book, and at the time they were first printed, they might have been under a simple personal work-for-hire agreement with his father.

I'm of the camp that says copyright has gone on too long if your grandchildren can expect to make a living from your work. And I have my reservations about children living off it after they have reached adulthood.

#35 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 05:58 PM:

Janet: Unless CJRT made up the geography of Middle Earth himself, which seems unlikely, what copyright would cover is the rendering, not the underlying information.

#36 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 06:09 PM:

There's a 70s-vintage Russian edition of The Hobbit with wonderful wood-cut-like illustrations:

It didn't have the usual maps. I wonder if the publisher collected royalties, even if in rubles.

In any case, I'd pay for a print copy of that edition. Or an English language edition that used its illustrations.

#37 ::: Nancy C. Mittens ::: (view all by) ::: May 24, 2012, 07:48 PM:

(Hee. Dave Crisp is talking with Dave Fried.)

#38 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 03:03 AM:

Lee @17, if you feel like diving into this further, Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig's book Free Culture, conveniently released online under a Creative Commons license, I found to be a very readable and useful introduction to the history and the issues at play.

#39 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 04:00 AM:

I thought the crown jewels of Disney copyright were the Pooh stories, not Mr. Michael Mouse?

#40 ::: Dave Chicken ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 05:23 AM:

#37: I don't see what's so funny about that.

#41 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 06:41 AM:

"I thought the crown jewels of Disney copyright were the Pooh stories, not Mr. Michael Mouse?"

Pooh probably makes them more money year to year (if I'm correctly remembering the stories published during the lawsuit over rights a few years back); but the Mouse is pretty lucrative too, and it more than Pooh marks their brand.

For what it's worth, the Winnie-the-Pooh *stories* went out of copyright a few years ago in countries that still use the Berne Convention minimum terms. (Milne died in 1956, or 56 years ago now). The iconic *illustrations*, however, did not (since Shepard outlived Milne by 20 years). It's largely the images (both Shepard's, and Disney's variants) that pull in the big bucks for Disney.

Even so, I have yet to find a non-bootleg site in a Berne-minimum country that's dared to put the Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin stories and poems publicly online. When I was vacationing in Canada (which is still a "life plus 50 years" country) not long ago, I typed in one of the books (leaving out the illustrations) and emailed it off to one of the amateur-run ebook sites there-- which declined to take it, still being worried about the long arm of Disney.

#42 ::: Dave Fried ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 10:27 AM:

Another thing, which confuses the entire Disney issue, is that even if the original Mickey cartoons started going into public domain, Disney could still use Mickey's image and name as trademarks, which would greatly restrict what anyone could actually do with them.

Media companies are so paranoid about IP and slippery slopes that I think they just don't want to risk setting any kind of precedent.

#43 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 10:43 AM:

Teresa @35: Which makes it more likely the maps would be considered a work-for-hire of some sort. I'd have to look up some references -- I think CJRT DID contribute some suggestions and corrections, but of course the underlying geography and original rough maps were JRRT's.

Stefan @36, The Hobbit is a different situation from LotR as far as illustrations; Wayne Hammond and Christina Scull's new book, The Art of the Hobbit, is all about how Tolkien developed his illustrations and his negotiations with his publisher about what to include in different editions. I haven't read it the whole way through, but with all the international editions out there with different illustrations (see Doug Anderson's Annotated Hobbit for more examples), I would imagine in this case that rights for the text and the illustrations were negotiated separately for translations.

#44 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 10:50 AM:

Dave Fried writes in #18:

Ostensibly the bill was pushed by Bono's widow, however.

Off-topic question: Sonny Bono had three ex-wives, one of them rather famous.

Is "Bono's widow" applicable only to the woman to whom he was married at his death? Is there any special phrase for a former spouse whose ex- is deceased? Or do the other three simply remain "ex-wives?"

I suppose one does not say "ex-widow."

#45 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 11:14 AM:

Bill Higgins @ 44:

Ex-widow sounds more like what you'd call a woman whose spouse returned as a vampire.

#46 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 12:10 PM:

John Mark Ockerbloom @5: Under the laws in effect at the time, LotR wasn't copyrighted in the US at all. There was a requirement that an edition be printed in the US, and the Houghton Mifflin editions were actually printed in Great Britain (says so right there on their copyright pages I've seen them). The unauthorized Ace edition was printed because Don Wollheim noticed this. Many other people managed to print (very small) US editions to protect their copyright -- there was even a company (Sidney Paget, if I'm correct about this) that made a business of doing this around the turn of the 20th C, and their editions of William Hope Hodgson are highly collectable. James Blish did a mimeographed edition of Doctor Mirabilis for this reason (250 copies, but that was enough). LotR is a really bad example around copyright issues.

#47 ::: Dave Crisp ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 12:45 PM:

Nancy @37: Glad I could provide your daily moment of amusement.

Everyone else: Thanks. Out of curiosity, I looked at the copyright page of my current copy of LOTR (a 2002 HarperCollins 3-volume h/c) and JRRT (or CJRT for that matter) isn't listed at all - the copyright is apparently held by "The trustees of the Tolkien 1967 settlement". Since Tolkien lived to 1973 this must be something he set up himself while he was alive, but a quick search hasn't turned up any other details. Which muddies the waters re: CJRT's rights in the maps even further.


#48 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 12:56 PM:

Dave Crisp @47: the settlement referred to in that notice is the settlement reached among Tolkien, Ballantine, Ace and others around the situation discussed in my previous post. Basically, they let him have back some copyright protection. I don't know the details, but there are plenty of Tolkien scholars who would.

#49 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 03:15 PM:

I'm very uncomfortable with the encroaching of eternal copyright. My own publications in book form, I hasten to add, have earned me precious little (a total of £50 for two poems published by Penguin 28 years ago). I am more concerned about the basic meaning of "copyright": the right to copy, and fair use of that right.

#50 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: May 25, 2012, 10:46 PM:

Bill Higgins @44:
I think the most correct phrase would be "ex-wife of the late So-and-so".

#51 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2012, 03:37 PM:

Dave Fried @32

"Dubious" is the word for the copyright status of "Happy Birthday To You". Yes, I know the courts have ruled that it's in copyright, but I wonder what they'd have said if they'd seen The Golden Book of Favorite Songs, copyrighted 1915? Specifically page 81, where "Good Morning To You" is also titled "Happy Birthday To You"?

#52 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: May 26, 2012, 08:44 PM:

And let's even get into the movie rights deals for Tolkien's work, which involved Fellowship and Return technically signed to one entity and Towers and Hobbit to another. And I believe NO movie rights were ever sold for Silmarillion or other posthumous works.

#53 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2012, 01:57 AM:

Actually, Janet Brennan Croft @52, it was Hobbit and Return sold to Rankin-Bass (resulting in the dreadful animated Hobbit and the even worse "Frodo: The Hobbit Part Two." Ooh, those awful orcs!) and Fellowship and Two Towers sold to Bakshi for the only very bad animated LotR. Which is why it cuts off when it did.

#54 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2012, 06:40 AM:

Tom Whitmore @53: I remember seeing the Bakshi movie and feeling that I was the victim of a bait-and-switch; it was advertised as the Lord of the Rings, not as part one of the story.

Of course, the second part was never produced.

From what you describe, the first film was done even more in bad faith than I realized — he could never have finished the story.

#55 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2012, 11:12 AM:

IIRC, the idea with Bakshi actually doing the first part was that he would then have leverage to buy the second part from Rankin-Bass; which, as usual, didn't work out quite as well as planned.

The script was by Peter S. Beagle, who actually later found himself lionized by many of the folks working on Peter Jackson's version, who thought he'd done a marvelous job. And the script is actually pretty good. The execution ... further deponent sayeth not.

#56 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2012, 11:51 AM:

Tom Whitmore @ 55... Ah, yes, the Rankin-Bass version... Did you know that "Where there's a whip there's a way" can be found on YouTube?

#57 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 27, 2012, 12:10 PM:

I should not have gone and watched that, Serge. I won't post the link in order to keep others from temptation. (That trick never works!)

#58 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: May 28, 2012, 05:26 AM:

How Houghton Mifflin &c wind up with more than $3.5 billion in debt anyway?

Smells like financial engineering shenanigans. And looks like the trade publishing business is a small appendage on a much larger Thing.

#59 ::: grendelkhan ::: (view all by) ::: June 01, 2012, 11:11 AM:
John Mark Ockerbloom: Even so, I have yet to find a non-bootleg site in a Berne-minimum country that's dared to put the Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin stories and poems publicly online. When I was vacationing in Canada (which is still a "life plus 50 years" country) not long ago, I typed in one of the books (leaving out the illustrations) and emailed it off to one of the amateur-run ebook sites there-- which declined to take it, still being worried about the long arm of Disney.

Project Gutenberg Distributed Proofreaders Canada was working on it as of 2010, sans illustrations. It might still be in the queue there. (Project Gutenberg has legal staff and defends its rights, though they're not perfect--see the flap around Poul Anderson's "The Escape".)

#60 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 12:01 AM:

For Happy Birthday, one of the sisters that wrote it died in 1916, the other in 1946 ... so Life+70 will be coming up in a few years, in 2016. And yes, its tune is also "Good Morning To All". So it's not as dubious as it might seem that it's still in copyright, even though it was first composed in 1893; one of the writers lived for 53 years after that.


#61 ::: Ben Biggs ::: (view all by) ::: June 02, 2012, 04:15 PM:

Doug @ 58,

From what I understand, a holding company borrowed money in order to buy Houghton Mifflin, and then they bought Harcourt (creating Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and then Clarion Books, perhaps a few others that I don't know of, or that are parts of the Education side of the company.

You end up with a big conglomerate of smaller companies, but with massive debt.

Working for them, though, hasn't really changed much since they've declared bankruptcy.

#62 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: June 06, 2012, 10:17 PM:

David @ 60

The thing is, works published in 1922 and before had already fallen out of copyright and into the public domain before the various copyright extension acts that have led to the copyright laws we have today, and they're all still out of copyright. This means that anything that can be shown to have been copyrighted and published in the US before 1923 is, by definition, in the public domain.

Since "Good Morning To You" has the alternate title "Happy Birthday To You" in the 1915 book, a clear case for it being actually in the public domain can be made, even if one or both authors was miraculously still alive today. Life plus 70 (or 50, or anything) simply doesn't apply to pre-1923 works.

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