Why the Tolkien estate just sued Warner Bros. for $80 million

Contributed by
Jan 14, 2013, 1:38 PM EST

The closer The Hobbit gets to its worldwide theatrical release, the more trouble it seems to garner. Whether it's Ian McKellen crying in frustration over the CGI or PETA protesting over the mistreatment of animals used on set, the property has seen better days. Now we can add a lawsuit from Tolkien's estate itself to the list.

At the heart of the Tolkien estate's suit is Warner Bros.' use of what's known as "intangible merchandising." While any look into your local toy and collectible shop will show you that there are action figures galore for everyone and everything involved in The Hobbit, it's something else entirely that's raised so much ire—gambling.

Specifically, we're talking about an online slot machine licensed by Warner that the Tolkien estate doesn't consider to be a breach in rights, but to be outright offensive. Directly quoting from the complaint, "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."

In addition to the online slot machine, there are Hobbit-themed ringtones, apps and Facebook games as well as a plan that would supposedly bring physical slot machines to casinos. While that could, in theory, mean more money for everybody, the issue at stake is that of integrity and the way Tolkien's fans will feel. The Tolkien estate was very specific, stating, "Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of defendants' rights, 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."

Thus far, Warner has declined to comment.

(via The Hollywood Reporter)

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