Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Pasta sauce from Middle-earth?

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.

16 comments:

  1. There are more Middle-earth related products out there that the Tolkien Enterprise isn't aware of. For example "Just For Him", a tobacco-company, is producing and selling Middle-earth related pipe-tobaccos (they named them Old Toby's Leaf, Ruins Of Isengard, etc.)...

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  2. I’ve come across other Tolkienian-sounding products, too, but this one is new to me. Thanks for leaving the comment. It’s a perfectly logical marketing choice, too, and therefore all the more likely to be of concern to Tolkien Enterprises (since this company isn’t on their list of licensees). Interesting.

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  3. so, does this mean Tolken Inc. sued Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin for the lyrics to "Ramble On"? Tee Hee!

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  4. Hey, PJ. I see you were kidding around, but you actually raise a good point. As it turns out, the merchandizing rights that Tolkien Enterprises controls do not seem to apply to music, of which there is quite a lot inspired by Tolkien, scattered across dozens of musical genres and countries. In addition to Led Zeppelin, there’s also Rush, Styx, Spyro Gyra, David Arkenstone, even Toad the Wet Sprocket — not to mention a profusion of headbanging black metal bands “inspired” by Tolkien’s images of evil. You might like some of that. ;)

    Here’s a list of hundreds of them! These rights fall under the jurisdiction of the Tolkien Estate (which is different from Tolkien Enterprises), though I bet most of these bands haven’t bothered asking for permission.

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  5. WOW! What is it with the Death/Doom/Black metal bands? And what the hell is the matter with Norway that it produces so many of these? Yikes...

    What's next, Iron Maiden making a song based on Coolridge? Oh wait...they did that...HA!

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  6. Maybe it’s those long, bitterly cold Scandinavian winters. They thrash, mosh, and headbang just to keep warm! :)

    What's next, Iron Maiden making a song based on Coolridge [sic] ?

    So did Rush! And ELO with Olivia Newton John, as Jennifer will be only too delighted to tell you! The movie Xanadu is one of her favorite guilty pleasures from childhood.

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  7. HA! Olivia Newton John...

    and thank you for pointing out my misspelling...good to see that college English degree I received is worth the paper it's printed on...

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  8. Sure thing, PJ. I usually can’t let a thing like that go, especially when STC is one of my favorite poets. At least I tried to do it gently. :)

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  9. All in good fun. My spelling skills are as suspect as my hockey skills right now :)

    "the horror....the horror"

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  10. In honor of the "holiday" today, of course...

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  11. Bart Servaes10/31/2007 2:28 PM

    I heard the Tolkien Estate is beginning to focus on the music bands nowadays. There's a rumour going round that Lingalad (excellent folk-band, performed at The Gathering Of The Fellowship last year or the year before) is having some troubles with the lawyers of the Estate. So I actually would bother about the rights if I was in a band...

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  12. Yes, so would I, Bart — especially if I actually performed at some of the most visible Tolkien-related events!

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  13. I'd like to have a jar of that condiment.

    Thirty years or so ago, when I lived in southern Oregon, a local bakery made "Maple Hobb-Bits," a chewy treat.

    Let Nancy Martsch (Beyond Bree) know about the sauce. She might update her List of Tolkieniana someday.

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  14. Hob-Bits, not Hobb-Bits - - sorry.

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  15. I’ll send Nancy an email — or you can feel free to let her know about it (and my blog), if you like. Since you write for Beyond Bree pretty regularly, you’re probably in closer contact with her than I am.

    And Maple Hob-Bits. Yum! Sounds like something Bill Huggins would have enjoyed. Or how about Maple Burra-hobbits? ;)

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