Sometimes, the news has a real Mad Libs quality, in which it just seems like incredibly disparate words are smashed together and fashioned into a breaking development. That’s how I felt, anyway, after reading a Guardian story headlined “Tolkien estate blocks ‘JRR Token’ cryptocurrency.”
It may be a Mad Libs, but it’s also real. Someone really did try to create a Lord of the Rings/J R. R. Tolkien–themed cryptocurrency called “JRR Token,” with the “JRR” supposedly standing for “Journey from Risk to Reward.” Billy Boyd, who played the hobbit Pippin in Peter Jackson’s trilogy, even signed up to promote it, claiming in a promotional video that “Saruman was trying to unify Middle Earth under centralised rule whereas the fellowship wanted decentralisation. Cryptocurrency is literally a decentralised network.”
But the Tolkien Estate was having none of it, swiftly taking legal action to block JRR Token:
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 Tolkien estate prevailed, also getting the domain name JRRToken.com in the process. This is probably for the best; the cryptocurrency was clearly leaning on the Lord of the Rings connection as a kind of promotional gimmick. Moreover, Tolkien himself, who had strong Luddite tendencies, would certainly have hated seeing his work abused in this way.
It is an interesting question, however, what some of his characters might have thought of crypto. Despite Boyd’s statement above, Saruman would have probably been a fan. Smaug the Dragon undoubtedly would have purloined a vast hoard of crypto, which Thorin Oakenshield would have desperately wanted back. Sauron would have probably helped others make their own cryptocurrencies, but while secretly laboring to make his own to which they were all somehow tied. And Gollum would have purchased a single Bitcoin early on, become rich, then forgot his password. It’s not hard to imagine his cries of “My precious!” being replaced with “My password!”