The Road might go “ever on and on” for Bilbo Baggins, but it has come to a sharp end for the developer of a cryptocurrency called JRR Token, after the estate of JRR Tolkien took legal action to block it.
The Lord of the Rings-themed cryptocurrency, with the tagline “The One Token That Rules Them All”, launched in August. It came with a video endorsement from Billy Boyd, the actor who played Pippin in the films, and the head-scratching claim that “Saruman was trying to unify Middle Earth under centralised rule whereas the fellowship wanted decentralisation. Cryptocurrency is literally a decentralised network.”
The Tolkien estate was not convinced. It took action almost immediately via the World Intellectual Property Organization’s arbitration procedure, where it argued that the product infringed its trademark rights to JRR Tolkien’s name, and that the domain name was “specifically designed to mislead internet users into believing that it and the website to which it resolves have some legitimate commercial connection” with Tolkien. It pointed out that only the letters “L” and “I” were omitted from the domain name.
The developer said in response that JRR Token was intended to reference “a unique form of digital currency”, rather than the late fantasy author, and that the fact that the domain name “brings to mind” the name JRR Tolkien is parody rather than bad faith. “The introductory header on the website homepage ‘One Token That Rules Them All’, referencing the famous phrase ‘One ring to rule them all’ … produces a humorous difference in order to invoke the desired effect of a parody,” it said, in the WIPO’s summary of its argument.
The WIPO’s arbitrator, however, said that “the respondent does not specify why the disputed domain name is humorous, funny or nail-biting, and not just a domain name chosen due to its similarities with the [Tolkien estate’s] trademarks to take commercial advantage of its evocation”.
The developer also asserted that he chose JRR for his domain name because “JRR” stands for “Journey through Risk to Reward” – a claim the WIPO dismissed, saying that “it is not clear to the panel what ‘Journey through Risk to Reward’ actually means, and why the term ‘journey’ is relevant to the purchase of tokens”.
The Tolkien estate has now recovered the domain name JRRToken.com. It has stopped the developer operating under that name, and has obtained their undertaking to delete any infringing online content, it said on 23 November, and the US-based developer has also paid the estate’s legal costs.
“The Tolkien estate is vigilant in preventing unauthorised parties from taking advantage of the JRR Tolkien name and the content of JRR Tolkien’s literary works. This was a particularly flagrant case of infringement, and the estate is pleased that it has been concluded on satisfactory terms,” said its solicitor Steven Maier.
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