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Lord of the Rings: Tolkien estate suing Warner for $80m over online slot machine games

Tuesday, 20th November 2012 10:33 GMT By Dave Cook

The Lord of the Rings is set to return to the big screen in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and ahead of the film’s release the Tolkien estate has been getting its house in order by suing Warner Bros. to the tune of $80 million for going beyond ‘tangible’ merchandising. Get the facts below.

The Hollywood Reporter broke the story, revealing that the Tolkien lawsuit was filed yesterday at a U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Book publisher HarperCollins is also involved on the Tolkien side of the $80 million suit, and both parties claim that Warner Bros. has overstepped copyright of the books and breached a contract with the Tolkien estate.

The plaintiffs claim that Warner has broken a decades-old agreement signed in 1969, stating that third-parties only create “tangible” merchandise based on the original books, not including branded slot machines or digital online gambling games that the estate has deemed ‘highly offensive’.

An excerpt from the full lawsuit reads, “The original contracting parties thus contemplated a limited grant of the right to sell consumer products of the type regularly merchandised at the time (such as figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like.

“They did not include any grant of exploitations such as electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services.”

The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game was first brought to the Tolkien estate’s attention in 2010 and prompted the group to seek damages, leading it to discover that Warner Bros. had plans to release more slot machines and games.

If the lawsuit is successful, the Tolkien estate will slap an injunction on Warner’s online slot machines and other infringing games. As far as can be seen, games such as Lord of the Rings Online, Guardians of Middle Earth and LEGO: Lord of the Rings are not involved in the suit.

The suit continues, “Defendants also have asserted and continue to assert that they have rights relating to a wide variety of goods and services beyond ‘articles of tangible personal property’ and have registered trademarks and/or filed ‘intent to use’ applications in those same categories, including without limitation hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, ringtones, online/downloadable games and housing developments — categories of rights which plainly have not been granted to them.”

On the issue of slot machines, the document added, “Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of defendants’ rights, but this infringing conduct has outraged Tolkien’s devoted fan base, causing irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works.”

What do you make of the Tokien’s suit? Is it justified, or was such brand expansion inevitable? Let us know below.

Thanks IGN.

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5 Comments

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  1. The_Red

    And they are using faces of actors from the films rather than original artwork. Maybe I’m wrong but this could get messy.

    It is rather sad to see a great movie / book trilogy reduced to this…

    #1 2 years ago
  2. freedoms_stain

    It isn’t about brand expansion being inevitable, if Warner didn’t have the rights to use the LOTR brand the way they have then they should have negotiated a new deal.

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dave Cook

    @1 & 2 yeah it’s not looking good is it?

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Gheritt White

    That’s the Warner way!

    #4 2 years ago
  5. Cobra951

    This should be interesting. It might become one of those law-defining cases. What is “tangible” in the digital age? If “tangible” now extends to purely digital items, can it be retroactively applied to contracts from before such things were possible, or even conceived?

    #5 2 years ago