It was supposed to be what a fan described as a “loving homage” to his hero, the author J.R.R. Tolkien, and to “The Lord of the Rings,” which he called “one of the most defining experiences of his life.”
A judge in California had another view.
The fan, Demetrious Polychron of Santa Monica, Calif., violated copyright protections this year when he wrote and published a sequel to the epic “Rings” series, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson of the Central District of California ruled last week.
In a summary judgment, Judge Wilson found “direct evidence of copying” and barred Polychron from further distributing the book or any others in a planned series. He also ordered Polychron to destroy all electronic and physical copies of the published work, “The Fellowship of the King,” by Sunday. As of Wednesday, Amazon and Barnes & Noble were no longer listing the book for sale online.
The saga began in 2017, when Polychron emailed and then hand-delivered a gift-wrapped copy of his book to Simon Tolkien, a grandson of the author, at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. Accompanying the gift was a letter in which Polychron said that he had written “the obvious pitch-perfect sequel” to Tolkien’s fantastical trilogy about Middle-earth and that he “really didn’t have a choice,” according to court documents. He said his goal was “to stick as close to canon as I could.”
Polychron repeatedly tried to share his manuscript with the Tolkien estate, which declined to grant the rights to a third-party publication and noted its policy to not license other writers to create sequels or extensions of work by Tolkien, who died in 1973. Still, Polychron went ahead and self-published his book.
The Tolkien estate learned that the book had been published in March 2023, when it was being sold through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The estate said in court documents that it sent Polychron a cease-and-desist letter, and tried to reach him several times by phone, to no avail.
In April, Polychron sued the Tolkien estate and Amazon. He claimed that “Lord of the Rings: Rings of Power,” an Amazon Prime Video prequel series that was released last year and is one of the few adaptations authorized by the Tolkien estate, infringed on the copyright of his book. He asked for $250 million in compensation.
Polychron said in court documents that he was inspired by Tolkien and the original “Rings” series, but he argued that he created a “wholly original book and concept” for the sequel, including “separate characters and story lines that compose as much as one-half of the 8-episode series” released by Amazon.
That case was dismissed in August, with Judge Wilson finding that Polychron’s book was infringing on the Tolkien estate’s copyright.
The Tolkien estate filed a lawsuit against Polychron in June, seeking an injunction to prevent the further distribution of his work, and accusing him of “willful and blatant” copyright violation in creating and profiting from derivative works.
The book included major characters from “Lord of the Rings,” including Samwise Gamgee, Aragorn and Sauron, according to court documents, as well as verbatim copying of at least 15 poems or passages from the trilogy; the use of Middle-earth and dozens of other settings from the original books, described in detail; and the duplication of a central plot and structure, among other copied elements. Court documents also said Polychron had conceived an entire seven-book series, “The War of the Rings.”
Judge Wilson wrote that Polychron’s lawsuit was “frivolous,” and ordered him to pay the Tolkien estate and Amazon $134,000 in lawyer’s fees.
Neither Polychron nor his lawyer could be reached for comment. A lawyer for the Tolkien estate, Steven Maier, said in a statement that the injunction was “an important success” for protecting Tolkien’s work.
“This case involved a serious infringement of The Lord of the Rings copyright, undertaken on a commercial basis,” he said. “The estate hopes that the award of a permanent injunction and attorneys’ fees will be sufficient to dissuade others who may have similar intentions.”