The estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien has sued The Hobbit producers for $80 million over breach of contract and copyright infringement related to merchandising of the Lord of the Rings franchise.
With The Hobbit three weeks away from official release, Hollywood Reporter obtained a copy of the lawsuit filed on Monday in District Court in Los Angeles.
So, what’s all the trouble in the shire? The heart of the lawsuit is over the use of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for online slot machines and gambling sites.
The Tolkien family and book publisher HarperCollins say that Warner Bros., its subsidiary New Line Cinema, and Lord of the Rings and Hobbit rights-holder Saul Zaentz Co. breached a contract and overstepped their copyright holdings when it comes to online gambling.
Under the current contract, as THR reveals, the licensing rights allow for “tangible” merchandise related to the LOTR and The Hobbit books but not digital gambling games or Hobbit-themed slot machines that could be deemed offensive and damaging to the late author’s work.
“Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of defendants’ rights,” the estate claims, “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.”
This is the second time that the J.R.R. Tolkien estate has sued New Line. In 2009, the two parties settled out of court over breach of contract in which the family alleged the studio had cut them out of $150 million in royalties.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey debuts in theaters on December 14.