Amazon’s Rings of Power: How Source Material Affects Storytelling

Public domain, story copyright, and intellectual property laws affect the stories about Middle Earth that Amazon can tell. Could this explain why the show is suffering?


© Amazon

Is Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power an adaptation, or a new story? That’s a perceptive question! As of today, only the first four episodes have dropped, and my wife and I have been watching…and cringing a lot.

Still, as a screenwriter, the choices the showrunners made makes me wonder about the nature of intellectual property (IP) and adaptations in Hollywood. Let’s talk about WHAT The Rings of Power is actually based on, and how the producer’s choice of source material affected the show they created:

I won’t be talking much about whether I think the show is good or bad, especially since the whole first season ain’t come out yet. However, I think it’s safe to say that the showrunners’ hands were tied even before they wrote a single page of the show.

In addition to the world-famous The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, many of you likely know that J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a history of Middle Earth. called The Silmarillion.

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion are kinda old, right? Wouldn’t they fall under public domain and so Amazon could just do whatever they wanted?

Not so fast! If a book was written in 1926 or earlier, it’s in the public domain. If it was published in 1964 or earlier, it could be in the public domain IF the copyright hasn’t been renewed.