Three weeks before the world-wide premiere of ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ comes the news that the J.R.R. Tolkien estate and the publisher of the author’s works, Harper Collins, are now suing Warner Bros. and New Line subsidiary and rights holder of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit,’ Saul Zaentz Company, for $80 million for breach of contract, copyright infringement, and declaratory relief.
At the crux of the lawsuit is the claim that Warner Bros. only had the rights to create merchandise that are considered “tangible property.” Only brick and mortar objects such as figurines, stationary items and clothing were allowed to be created and sold. The complaint contends that the rights “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.”
At the crux of this complaint are the digital online video games featuring the images of the characters from ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ that are only available via download. But what the estates finds most objectionable are the new gambling games that seem to now have popped up.
“Gambling constitutes a further category of rights which have never been granted to defendants…Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of defendants’ rights,” states the complaint, ”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.”
According to the suit, fans are in an uproar with many believing that the estate had consented to this type of commercialization and seeing Bilbo, Frodo, Gollum and other beloved Tolkien characters “associated with the morally questionable world of online and casino gambling” goes against the scope of the original rights.
The J.R.R. Tolkien estate and Harper Collins are asking for an injunction against the infringing games and other products that have ventured out from the original deal as well as more than $80 million in damages.
This isn’t the first time these two parties have gone to court over the rights of the novels. The Tolkien estate and Harper Collins previous sued over royalties allegedly owed from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. That suit ended in an out-of-court settlement.