Fans Petition to Save Ambitious Lord of the Rings Mod

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Fans Petition to Save Ambitious Lord of the Rings Mod

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The team behind a Lord of the Rings project nine times larger than Skyrim is seeking to overturn its cease-and-desist order.

It's a timeless story that's been told throughout the ages. Boy loves movie, boy tries to recreate beloved movie as a videogame modification, and finally, IP holders issue a cease-and-desist order preventing the modification from being released. We've all been there. But one Skyrim modding team believes that its Lord of the Rings project is unique enough to warrant an exception from the legal banhammer, and has started a petition and boycott in the hopes that Warner Bros. will change its mind. The mod in question is a meticulously detailed recreation of Middle Earth nine times larger than Skyrim that includes all of the characters, locations, and even quests depicted in the films and books. Yes, even the crucial quest of Frodo the Ringbearer.

"[The Middle-Earth Roleplaying Project] is a Lord of the Rings total conversion for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim made, non for profit, by volunteers in their spare time," the petition reads. "We, the undersigned, call upon Warner Bros. Entertainment to lift the cease and desist from MERP and allow the developers to continue as they were with no hindrance. Until the above solution is reached, the undersigned promise to boycott and refrain from purchasing any Lord of the Rings branded products that Warner Bros publish or support."

MERP began production in 2008 as an Oblivion mod that, before the cease-and-desist order, was in the process of being ported and expanded within Skyrim. While the Skyrim port was still in the early stages, planned features would include a heightmap 9 times bigger than Skyrim, quests from the White Council and Free Peoples, and even the ability to keep the One Ring for yourself instead of hurling it into Mount Doom. The MERP team actually started a dialogue with the Warner Bros. legal team to protect what had been developed so far, offering to cut features and quests that might conflict with commercial LotR projects, but were routed at every turn.

"From the description of [the Middle-Earth Roleplaying Project] available publicly, we understand that it essentially amounts to a LOTR game," reads the cease-and-desist order from Warner Bros. "The release of MERP into the marketplace will likely result in customer confusion and cannibalization with respect to such legitimately licensed LOTR/Hobbit games and will detract from the value proposition bargained and paid for by legitimate licensees of the LOTR/Hobbit properties. Furthermore, projects and games like MERP will diminish and erode Warner Bros.' ability to manage and protect the brand, reputation and quality of the LOTR/Hobbit properties that it has invested significant resources to cultivate over the years."

In all honesty, it is exceedingly unlikely that a petition or boycott will have the impact that the MERP team hopes it will. With the Hobbit movies set to exponentially increase the Lord of the Rings audience, this petition will need an astounding amount of support before Warner Bros. will take notice, and naming your petition "Save MERP from corporate greed" isn't going to help. That said, a strictly non-profit modification might get a pass if the petition gets the attention of someone outside of Warner Bros. Legal Department. The petition has gained over 3000 signatures in the two days since it was issued.

Anyone interested in signing the petition can find it here, while the Oblivion version of the mod is (currently) still available on Moddb.

Source: PC Gamer, via Gameranx

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If it's a mod...how can 'they' stop it?

It's like the owners of the BattleStar Galactica IP suing over that recent FreeSpace 2 mod.

What about a catapult? :P

People can say what they want about George Lucas but at least he is not a big dick over mods and such of Star Wars.

I thought his basic rule was he did not care what you did so long as you were not harming the Star Wars brand really.
Some people are a bit to crazy about their IP stuff.

DVS BSTrD:
What about a catapult? :P

We could throw the one mod over Warner Bros. defenses!

"That's fucking retarded Boromir."

Might as well throw a CnD at Third Age Total War because it threatens Battle for Middle Earth.

Fanghawk:
"The release of MERP into the marketplace will likely result in customer confusion and cannibalization with respect to such legitimately licensed LOTR/Hobbit games and will detract from the value proposition bargained and paid for by legitimate licensees of the LOTR/Hobbit properties.

So basically, "We may not be able to do anything worthwhile with the LotR license, but we're sure as hell gonna see to it that nobody else does either!".

I guess that's how it works though, they must have known that when they started the project. Still, it's hard not to feel sorry for them :-/

Who owns the right to make LotR video games anyway? Last time I checked EA had done away with it.

The real problem is they know MERP will be better than any games WB can put out. Can't have that now, can we.

Frankly, while spoken in jest, that sounds more likely than any confusion it will cause. MERP is a mod. It will only be available/accessible to people who know what a mod is. The average consumer will never even know MERP exists.

Corporate greed? no. Corporate ignorance more like.

Because it's still their IP, meaning they own everything from the geometry, to the map to the characters to the naming conventions... The truth of it is that they could rename it, draw their own rendition of the map instead of copying it over and not name a single character and be 100% fine. As long as they don't grab anything directly from the movie or books or can say 'In good faith...' that they believe they have created something original and have changed enough of the mod to differ itself from any resemblance of LOTR, then they'd be A. In a legal grey line and B. In one that Warner Bros wouldn't have the balls to sue them for because they know it wouldn't be a hands-down victory. The problem really occurs with the question, 'Does Warner Bros actually hold the rights all electronic media about LOTR?' Because if they don't, then these threats are meritless and the only person who could actually sue would be an owner of the original rights, or the creator himself. All in all, they are probably more worried about them calling it 'Lord of the Rings' than any of the actual content in the mod, which is the same problem that Blizzard had last year when a mod called, 'World of Starcraft' was made in their very own game SC2.

What they need to do is hit up Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman and the WETA studios with this. No doubt (for Warner Bros) this is a standard response and they regard any counter argument another standard response, one which they are more than happy to ignore.

I doubt anyone involved with the C'n'D has even the slightest inkling what they're stamping on, just that it had the Tolkein word attached to it. They would pay attention if one of their 'names' started talking about it, if only to avoid the PR disaster.

Wouldn't this fall under fair use laws though?

SmashLovesTitanQuest:

Archers.

This applies both to your joke twist on the meme, and the meme itself.

So why didn't the eagles fly them to Mordor instead of making them foot slog across the back-ass of the world?

They were trying to keep a low profile, flying on a giant eagle kings back is pretty flashy.

It's often said in cases like this that the licence holder is 'forced' to take this kind of action to protect their property, but in this case that might be literally true. Warner Bros. does not own LOTR outright, and from what I've seen (mostly on the LOTRO forums) the actual holders of the rights, Saul Zaentz through Middle Earth Enterprises, can be decidely twitchy about any infringement on those rights.

I'm no lawyer or expert but I think to some extent WB is a middleman in this - and failure to protect the licence could in theory result in that licence being taken away from them by ME Enterprises.

Soviet Heavy:

DVS BSTrD:
What about a catapult? :P

We could throw the one mod over Warner Bros. defenses!

"That's fucking retarded Boromir."

Might as well throw a CnD at Third Age Total War because it threatens Battle for Middle Earth.

Holy shit, I'm not the only person on the Escapist who's seen that youtube vid.

High-Five!

TsunamiWombat:

SmashLovesTitanQuest:

Archers.

This applies both to your joke twist on the meme, and the meme itself.

So why didn't the eagles fly them to Mordor instead of making them foot slog across the back-ass of the world?

They were trying to keep a low profile, flying on a giant eagle kings back is pretty flashy.

2 reasons why that is wrong

1. The eagles could have flown high enough to use cloud cover

2. the crew would be flying on the back of the eagles. Not the stomach where everyone can see them but the back. So unless they are flying 10 ft off the ground no one is going to pay much attention to some flying giant eagles and counting the legs. But with the hobbits stubby little legs I doubt anyone could see them anyways.

Too bad. There hasn't been a good Lord of the Rings game since the Return of the King game. (That and The Two Towers being exceptions to the "Movie-Based Video Game = Shit" rule)

Still, signed anyway. Maybe one day once it's all finished, the mod will get "leaked" onto the internet where Warner Brothers cant do anything about it.

My view on this is, if they go after this they should also be going after everything from free flash games to Angband (the roguelike) to Third Age mods for total war and mount&blade.
It's a mod, guys. It does not infringe on your Godforsaken right to make profits, any more than a fan artist infringes on the profit rights of a painter. Either make something good enough to sell on its own merits, or take your ball and go home.

Well the Hobbit book don't enter the public domain for about another 20 years. The rights holders can kill whatever project they want.

As much as I'd like to see this continue I'd rather Square resurrect the fan-made Chrono Trigger 3D project that they killed.

Remarkable.

Recently, I considered getting the Extended Edition set on Blu-ray.. after I had a little "boycott hissy-fit". This was over WB forcing a Brit pub to change itself or close it's doors because it was "Middle Earth" themed. I'm American, but I saw that and I said.. "Really?"

I was just looking at buying the set yesterday, too. Nop.jpg

vrbtny:

Soviet Heavy:

DVS BSTrD:
What about a catapult? :P

We could throw the one mod over Warner Bros. defenses!

"That's fucking retarded Boromir."

Might as well throw a CnD at Third Age Total War because it threatens Battle for Middle Earth.

Holy shit, I'm not the only person on the Escapist who's seen that youtube vid.

High-Five!

It actually started out as a Gif image series. But it is bloody hilarious.

squid5580:

TsunamiWombat:

SmashLovesTitanQuest:

Archers.

This applies both to your joke twist on the meme, and the meme itself.

So why didn't the eagles fly them to Mordor instead of making them foot slog across the back-ass of the world?

They were trying to keep a low profile, flying on a giant eagle kings back is pretty flashy.

2 reasons why that is wrong

1. The eagles could have flown high enough to use cloud cover

2. the crew would be flying on the back of the eagles. Not the stomach where everyone can see them but the back. So unless they are flying 10 ft off the ground no one is going to pay much attention to some flying giant eagles and counting the legs. But with the hobbits stubby little legs I doubt anyone could see them anyways.

I thought the real reason was that the eagles just didn't give a shit about the problems of men and such because they're fucking eagles. GIANT FUCKING EAGLES.

OT: This is stupid, it's a mod, I don't see how this effects Warner besides the fact they might be jealous someone's gonna make a better game then them.

Mcoffey:
Too bad. There hasn't been a good Lord of the Rings game since the Return of the King game. (That and The Two Towers being exceptions to the "Movie-Based Video Game = Shit" rule)

Still, signed anyway. Maybe one day once it's all finished, the mod will get "leaked" onto the internet where Warner Brothers cant do anything about it.

You must have missed the BFME series, along with LotRO. Though I guess I can forgive you for LotRO, it's an MMO after all, but calling the BFME series bad is just... wrong

They have to do this or they lose ability to stop other people using their IP.

Blame IP laws, not the companies that have to work with them.

JaceArveduin:

Mcoffey:
Too bad. There hasn't been a good Lord of the Rings game since the Return of the King game. (That and The Two Towers being exceptions to the "Movie-Based Video Game = Shit" rule)

Still, signed anyway. Maybe one day once it's all finished, the mod will get "leaked" onto the internet where Warner Brothers cant do anything about it.

You must have missed the BFME series, along with LotRO. Though I guess I can forgive you for LotRO, it's an MMO after all, but calling the BFME series bad is just... wrong

Yeah I'm terrible at rts's so I usually just skip them, and the MMO grind always bores me. Now that I think about it, The Third Age was decent as well, even if I didn't finish it.

So... a company is protecting their IP rights from people who are actually, intentionally, and totally infringing upon those rights?

And now the internet's throwing a hissy fit?

Krantos:
The real problem is they know MERP will be better than any games WB can put out. Can't have that now, can we.

That was my thought on the matter too. Most LOTR games are nothing more than cheap, lazy cash-ins with no effort involved whatsoever. The only exception would possibly be Battle for Middle Earth 2, and even that was hardly original in any shape or form.

Azuaron:
So... a company is protecting their IP rights from people who are actually, intentionally, and totally infringing upon those rights?

And now the internet's throwing a hissy fit?

Yes, because they are not making money off of it, so no harm is being done. They are fans creating a fan project.

Should people not be allowed to draw pictures from films/games they like either, even if they are not planning on selling them, just to share them amongst other fans?

Are peoples lives really so sad that this should be an issue?

They should just cease and desist updating the project on their website, then a few years from now, a suspiciously similar project should get uploaded to some torrent sites from a random public IP adress.

That's what Visual Novel fan translation teams do all the time, when Japan really wants to stop us from reading their stories. Just pretend to cease and desist, and by the time it is out, the studio no longer has any profit in proving that the formerly charged team is still responsible.

Somewhere between the mod team, Warner Bros, Bethesda and the Saul Zaentz Company, someone needs to get this turned into a legimate project, with even possibly a standalone game produced in collaboration between these companies.

It doesn't appear to be a copyright issue, but a trademark issue. Kinda like Bethesda and Mojang's Scrolls, except the "little guy" here doesn't have the ability to fight back.

Never quite understood why these Cease and Desist letters are anything but subjects of mockery.

Make brand X mod for the fun of it to hand out for free, get C&D threat, care? Why? Why not finish the thing anyway, have some other party you trust set it free online and go on about your life? Unless you are going to somewhat foolishly insist on taking identifiable personal credit for a creation you received a legal threat for, why should any mod creator care?

Secretly finish it anyway, set it free. Once it becomes a torrent it's all but immortal.

http://www.patent-trademark-law.com/law/sued-cease-desist-letter-means/

Mcoffey:

Yeah I'm terrible at rts's so I usually just skip them, and the MMO grind always bores me. Now that I think about it, The Third Age was decent as well, even if I didn't finish it.

Eh, the gameplay's not what makes LotRO awesome, it's just the amount of detail to the small things. The game has so many little easter eggs that it's just insane.

Azuaron:
So... a company is protecting their IP rights from people who are actually, intentionally, and totally infringing upon those rights?

And now the internet's throwing a hissy fit?

This case only proves that IP law is wrong on many levels. The company shouldn't have these rights to begin with. They might have legal rights to the franchise, thanks to a broken system, but no moral rights.
The modders don't have legal rights, but they are in the right.

1. J. R.R. Tolkien died 39 years ago. Yet, laws that are claimed to help artists make a living, and support the creation of more art by them, are being bought off by giant corporations to stop new art from being made and increase their own profits in the name of a few white bones in a cementery in Oxford.

2. The Hobbit was released 75 years ago, The Lord of the Rings 58 years ago. The places, characters, races, and situations described in them have since became a part of common culture. The One Ring, Gandalf, the Hobbit race, or the city of Gondor, belong the the masses as much as The Excalibur, Prince Hamlet, the Lilliputians, or Atlantis are. Many works were created about these themes, yet Middle-earth is for some arbitary reason, a Forbidden Zone.

3. Copyright is claimed to be a necessary law to protect the production of more new games by the industry. Yet so far, in the past many years, the copyright industry has failed to create any large scale LotR RPG similar to the Elder Scrolls games, in spite of the obvious demand for it. They left a hole in the market.

Then here there is a team of enthusiastic artists willing to fill that hole on their own terms, and create games for free, without even asking for any "intellectual property" for themselves, without demanding their own "right" to stop others from copying their work, either with piracy, or with modified creations. And what does the copyright to? STOP THEM FROM CREATING IT!

Know what would be awesome? If Warner Brothers hired Bethesda to actually make the game, maybe even hire these guys too so everyone can be happy.But of course it won't happen, since making some actually interesting games would require their heads to see sunlight.

Mister Six:
Wouldn't this fall under fair use laws though?

'
Fair use is more to protect things used for parody, education, and review. Like, if you wanted to do a review of the LOTR movies and use a few clips to comment on them, you'd probably be under fair use.

What they're doing is definitely infringing, but it's still pretty weak when big companies shut down their fans like this. If it's non-profit and the creators make it clear that they are not affiliated with the UP holder, I say let them go forward.

Valve has been impressive with stuff like this, asking only that modders remove certain trademarks from mod names and make it clear that they are unaffiliated with Valve. It's a much more sensible way to handle it than having your bored lawyers exercise their might on your own biggest fans.

There's always the argument to be made about consumer confusion and such, but that could be easily solved by just asking them to put big disclaimers on their media and the game menu that say "THIS IS A FAN CREATED WORK AND IS NOT AFFILIATED WITH WARNER BROS." yadda yadda yadda.

There was a LOTR mod for Oblivion and I DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT IT?!?!?!?

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