You shall not pass!
A cryptocurrency named after the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy was deemed a trademark violation and barred from operating on Tuesday after the estate of author JRR Tolkien took the digital token’s creator to task.
The coin, called “JRR Token,” was set up by Florida-based developer Matthew Jensen and launched in August 2021.
It was widely promoted and even came with a video endorsement from Billy Boyd, who played Pippin in the “Lord of the Rings” films, in which he claimed that “Saruman was trying to unify Middle Earth under centralized rule whereas the fellowship wanted decentralization. Cryptocurrency is literally a decentralized network.”
The reference to Saruman refers to the leader of an evil army in the trilogy.
But a panel from the Geneva-based World Intellectual Property Organization ruled on Tuesday that the digital token was set up for commercial gain and deemed it “confusingly similar” to the trademark already owned by the Tolkien estate.
“There is no doubt that the respondent was aware of Tolkien’s works and created a website to trade off the fame of these works,” the panel said in its decision.
The WIPO ordered Jensen to cease operations under the name and delete all infringing content, including social media accounts and websites.
Jensen also paid the estate’s legal costs, the estate said.
“This was a particularly flagrant case of infringement, and the estate is pleased that it has been concluded on satisfactory terms,” the Tolkien estate’s UK lawyer, Steven Maier, said in a statement to Bloomberg.
Jensen sought to defend his crypto by arguing that it was just a parody meant to be funny.
“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,” the developer argued, according to the WIPO’s summary of its argument.
However, the WIPO’s arbitrator said “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.”