Warner Bros Sued For $80M By J.R.R Tolkien Estate & Publisher

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.

Related: UPDATE: ‘Hobbit’ Filmmakers Deny Claims Of Abuse In Animal Deaths

Comments (23)

  • >“…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

    Well, just give back all the money and Warners will get a hammer and smash all the hard drives with the LOTR movies and delete all the new HOBBIT footage. Then everyone can put this unpleasantness in the past and get on with re-reading the novels.

    Comment by markLouis — Monday November 19, 2012 @ 7:31pm PST  
  • This is ridiculous. The Tolkien estate needs to stop trying to control the cultural effects of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. Tolkien was the sole creator and de facto owner of Middle Earth, but unfortunately he is no longer with us which means his ideas now belong to the public regardless of legal technicalities, whether the Tolkien estate wants to acknowledge this or not. He published his works and shared them with the (paying) populace, and there is an inherent contract there that implicitly states the public now has some degree of ownership as the consumer. I don’t like The Hobbit or LOTR being whored out any more than other Middle Earth fans, but this is an inevitability with hugely popular works. One could argue that all the Sherlock Holmes adaptations are whoring to an extent, but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is dead and gone so he is obviously not going to be bothered by it. Anyone who profits from Middle Earth other than J.R.R. himself, even if it is “the Tolkien estate,” is doing so based off his accomplishments and not their own, so I definitely don’t see the estate as having any higher ground here than WB or Denny’s.

    Comment by Eli Patrice — Monday November 19, 2012 @ 9:34pm PST  
    • Eli, methinks though shouldst read up moar on copyright law. For thou hast ignorantz.

      Comment by the copyright police — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 2:30am PST  
    • Really? You think the public are partial owners in what Tolkien created?

      That’s one of the dumbest things I’ve read in a very long time.

      Comment by Andrew — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 7:15am PST  
    • You think Tolkien would want to be associated with gambling??? Get real. Tolkien was a devoted Christian.

      Comment by Mark — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 10:08am PST  
    • You know nothing about copyright law. Tolkien’s works are still under copyright, which is apparently never going to end, thanks to Disney. Sherlock Holmes is not, and is therefore up for public exploitation.

      Comment by The Lone Fedora — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 7:02pm PST  
  • They’re right about the slot machines and other gambling-related merch. Tacky, and it waters down the brand.

    Comment by Michael Heister — Monday November 19, 2012 @ 10:46pm PST  
  • Professor Tolkien shared his stories with the world. I think all parties involved need to stop this nonsense, and carefully examine what’s actually going on here… jealousy????? Perhaps greed as well???

    Comment by Martha — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 2:52am PST  
  • Well, J.R.R Tolkien wasnt the only one to work on middle earth, when he died, his son Christopher tolkien took over his work and published mutliple books including the simarilion, the book of lost tales 1 + 2, the history of middle earth, the unfinished tales, children of hurin, and more. So saying the middle earth belongs to the public is wrong, Middle Earth belongs to the Tolkien familiy, who after JRR Tolkien’s death took over his projects,, read through all his notes and kept middle earth growing.

    Comment by Daniel — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 3:52am PST  
  • As a devoted Tolkien fan, I’m offended and distressed at the Tolkien estate for being so sue happy.

    Comment by Sean Astin Fan — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 3:57am PST  
  • Luckily Christopher Tolkien, an out of touch million year old son of Tolkien hiding somewhere in France can’t possibly live much longer. Perhaps control of the estate will pass to a more friendly Tolkien…

    Comment by Brian K — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 5:13am PST  
  • I can totally understand the Tolkein estate. Slot machines are too far. Middle Earth should not be destroyed by using low class merchandising techniques.

    Comment by EowynofRohan — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 8:42am PST  
  • HA-HA! Suits perfect to those ugly orcs at WB, it’s not long ago when WB lawyers were crying over on mod team plans for making Middle Earth mod in one game, a project of fans were crushed without mercy from big corporate a-holes who care only for money! Now, let them taste their own bad medicine YEAAAH!

    Comment by Jack'O — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 10:33am PST  
  • Totally agree with what you said, and thank you for saying it so well!

    Comment by dls — Tuesday November 20, 2012 @ 12:50pm PST  
  |  More Comments

Sorry, comments are closed for this article.