Tolkien Estate faces bizarre countersuit over Hobbit slot machines

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Feb 12, 2019, 1:00 PM EST (Updated)

Just in case you had any lingering hope left that it wasn't all about the money ...

A few months ago, we told you about the Tolkien estate, their beef with Warner Bros. and a subsequent lawsuit over intangible marketing in the form of Hobbit-themed online slot machines.  Now the Saul Zaentz Co., which has certain rights over Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, has entered a countersuit.  Why?  Because, according to them, they're the reason for the popularity of these stories.

To wit, Zaentz is claiming that the success of Tolkien's masterpiece is "largely the result of the dedicated efforts of Zaentz and its licensees over the past four decades."

On the one hand, we have the Tolkien estate, which feels that these slot machines are causing "irreparable harm to Tolkien's legacy" and that gambling as a whole is "morally questionable."  On the other, we have Zaentz and Warner Bros., who claim that, going back to 1969 and including further videogame rights from 1996, agreements regarding license were made that allowed for this level of marketing, regardless of morality.  Moreover, they insist that these franchises wouldn't have even endured without Zaentz's guiding hand.

While we by no means have a dog in this fight, it's worth pointing out that those Lord of The Rings adaptations from Peter Jackson were unprecendented for many reasons, but primarily for their length and because all three were filmed at the same time.  Now, why would any company agree to shell out that kind of money up front unless they knew the property was bankable?  And was the movement of people tagging the phrase "Frodo Lives" all over the place viral marketing before such a thing really existed?  We doubt it.  

What we're driving at is this -- Tolkien's books were and are popular because they're good books that come with both a broad appeal and an expansive world rich enough to delight even the most hardcore of fantasy lovers.  While we'll happily leave it to the courts to toil over rights and licenses, we're calling the claim that Tolkien's work would be lost to time without adaptations and mass marketing bogus.

(via Middle-Earth News)