The estate of Lord Of The Rings author J.R.R Tolkien went after Warner Bros today in an $80 million lawsuit over online slot machines and other digital merchandising. In the complaint (read it here), the Tolkien Estate Ltd, its trustees and News Corp-owned publisher HarperCollins have charged the studio, its New Line subsidiary and The Saul Zaentz Company’s Middle-earth Enterprises division with copyright infringement and breach of contract. It’s not the hugely successful movies they’re fighting over this time. Now its merchandising that the estate says was never anticipated as part of its original deal back in 1969. “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,” says the 26-page complaint. This legal move comes just under a month before the first movie in the Warner Bros-distributed and Peter Jackson-directed trilogy The Hobbit hits the big screen December 14. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, directed by Jackson, has made almost $3 billion in worldwide box office.
“Not only are gambling services outside the rights granted, but this exploitation of Tolkien’s well-loved work has offended and distressed Tolkien’s devoted fans, harming Tolkien’s legacy and reputation,” The Tolkien Estate said in a separate statement to Deadline. “The plaintiffs have been compelled to take this action to protect their literary and commercial assets and hope that the dispute will be resolved quickly,” the Estate and the publisher added. The Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins, who filed their complaint in federal court in LA on Monday, have requested a jury trial for their claims. Warner Bros had no comment on the suit. This isn’t the Tolkiens and Warner Bros’ first court battle. In 2009, the Tolkien Estate, HarperCollins and New Line came to an out-of-court settlement after the Estate sued had the studio over profits from The Lord of the Rings movies the year before. That settlement paved the way for Warner Bros, which had absorbed New Line in 2008, to make more Tolkien movies like the upcoming Hobbit. Bonnie Eskenazi, Ricardo Cestero and Elisabeth Moriarty of LA firm Greenberg Glusker represent the plaintiffs in this latest suit.