Forget orcs. The most fearsome creatures in the Tolkien universe may be lawyers.
The estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien, the man who brought forth all things Middle Earth with the magic tucked inside his pen, has filed suit against Warner Bros., New Line, and the Saul Zaentz Company for copyright infringement and breach of contract, alleging that the studio had gone far beyond the “limited” merchandising rights it holds for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. When the estate sold the film rights to those Tolkien books in 1969, the suit alleges, it only allowed for “the manufacture, sale and distribution of … any and all articles of tangible personal property,” but the suit claims the defendants have “with increasing boldness, engaged in a continuing and escalating pattern of usurping rights to which they are not entitled.”
The suit interprets the “tangible property” clause to exclude “downloadable video games based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, available only by downloading and/or access via the Internet, via mobile apps, tablet apps or other similar digital distribution channels, or through other online interconnectivity such as Facebook.”
The suit also claims that gambling and casino games using characters and story elements from The Lord of the Rings not only go beyond the scope of the merchandising rights, but have caused “irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works.”
The estate, which filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in California, is asking for a jury trial. Warner Bros. (which, like Entertainment Weekly, is a part of Time Warner) has no comment.
In 2009, the Tolkien estate settled a lawsuit seeking $150 million in profits for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which allowed for Warner Bros. and New Line to finally move forward with a feature film adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Last July, during the San Diego Comic-Con panel for the wildly anticipated release of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, director Peter Jackson said of the Tolkien estate, “I don’t think they like these movies at all.”