A few weeks ago, my wife came across pasta sauces by “Middle Earth Organics” at our local Whole Foods Market. She knew I’d get a kick out of that, so she bought us a couple of them. Turns out, they’re very good!
I couldn’t help but wonder whether Tolkien Enterprise (aka Saul Zaentz) knows about this, or would have any legal complaint about the use of “Middle Earth”. They cast a pretty wide net on the worldwide exclusive rights to “names of characters, places, scenes, things and events” from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and they’ve been known to send out many a C&D over even the most modest offenses. They have every right to profit (in perpetuity, even) from their shrewd purchases of these rights, of course; but sometimes, common sense ought to prevail, I think, especially when a company intends no connection whatsoever with Tolkien. Or when a word or name isn’t Tolkien’s own original creation.
There’s a defensible argument to be made that “Middle Earth” is not Tolkien’s own invention (he admitted as much himself), and that “Middle Earth” may or may not be the same thing as “Middle-earth”, but I’ve never known Tolkien Enterprises to care much for fine distinctions like that. If there’s a licensing fee to be bled from somebody, their professional leeches are always ready with the instruments of torture.