If there is a flavour to the end of literary 2023, it would have to be the taste of D’oh. Last week, Cait Corrain, whose debut novel has been dropped by her publisher after she pumped it, bombed her rivals with fake reviews on Goodreads. That kicked up such a stir that the Guardian this week has a big piece on whether this signals the death of Goodreads (I guess it beats interminable pieces on the death of the novel).
But if there were a Darwin Award for most ridiculous self-sabotaging of a literary career it would go not in that direction but to the story that broke in the mainstream media this week. This is the story of fanfiction author Demetrious Polychron (quite possibly a pseudonym!). As I have reported many times in this column, I am a huge admirer of the fanfiction community and its capacity for innovation. But Polychron took that innovation to another level with his legal efforts.
The author of Tolkien fanfiction, The Fellowship of the King, decided to sue Amazon over its Rings of Power series. He claimed Amazon had breached his copyright over his 2022 book, the start of what he saw as a perfect extension of Tolkien canon. A California judge disagreed, arguing the infringement was the other way around. Tolkien’s estate then weighed in. The end result was a judge insisting Polychron destroy every physical and digital copy of what was now clearly identified as the offending work as well as paying six figure damages and calling the original suit “frivolous.”
It’s hard to assess whether this is a spectacularly unsuccessful exercise of judgement or a spectacularly successful publicity stunt. It reminds me somewhat of avant garde music project The K Foundation’s notorious cash burning stunt in 1994.
Materials Entering the Public Realm
On a related Tolkien note, this is the time of year when we find out what materials will be entering the public realm in the new year. Part of this relates to the expiry of copyright, meaning that more is up for mining (clearly not Tolkien! Think instead the reason we have seen such delights as Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey). Another part is works that enter into public ownership having been bought with public funds. Part of Arts Council England’s £52m spend on such things for the new year is an archive of correspondence from Tolkien and his Oxford companion C S Lewis. They will be wonderful research material for writers – and again make me realise how lucky I am as many will be housed less than half a mile from my office at Oxford’s Story Museum. If I turn any of my research into fanfiction I’ll be sure not to sue the Story Museum for breach of copyright!