As Los Angeles fans of "Lord of the Rings" gear up for the December premiere of "The Hobbit," we have an interesting entertainment law development related to the blockbuster films and the bestselling novels they are based upon to tell you about.
The estate of J.R.R. Tolkien has sued book publisher HarperCollins, film studio New Line Cinemas and other parties after they allegedly permitted an official "Lord of the Rings" slot machine-style gambling game.
Tolkien's estate believes this breaches their longstanding merchandising and licensing agreement, which it claims provides only for tangible items, such as figurines and clothing. It also seems the estate is not happy to find itself associated with a gambling game, which it apparently considers distasteful.
In its lawsuit, the Tolkien's estate claims the existence of the gambling game has "enraged" Tolkien's devoted fan base.
The estate is seeking $80 million and an injunction against the online gambling game, as well as any future digital-based enterprises it thinks exceed the scope of the agreement.
Warner Bros., which owns New Line, has not commented directly on the suit. Nor has HarperCollins.
This is an interesting case because the agreement being referred to here was inked in 1969, well before anyone had any idea that things such as online games, ringtones, websites and smartphone apps would ever exist, let alone be very profitable enterprises. In circumstances like this, where it isn't clear how (or even if) an agreement applies, a conversation with an attorney can often be quite helpful.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Tolkien Estate Sues Warner Bros. Over 'Lord of the Rings' Slot Machines (Exclusive" Matthew Belloni, Nov. 19, 2012