Tolkien’s estate sues movie studio, book publisher over online gambling game

By Pankaj Ladhar of Manos • Alwine P.L.

We’re very close to the premiere of “The Hobbit,” as any Miami fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy series surely doesn’t need to be told.

But this recent piece of entertainment law news doesn’t have anything to do with that upcoming film. Rather, it has to do with a “Lord of the Rings”-themed online slot machine-style game.

That game has prompted Tolkien’s estate to sue book publisher HarperCollins, film studio New Line Cinemas and other parties under the theory that the game breaches their longstanding merchandising and licensing agreement.

Tolkien’s estate believes the agreement, which was signed in 1969, applies only to tangible merchandise, like toys and games. It claims digital platforms like games and ringtones were never contemplated by the agreement. It also points to a clause that reserves “any rights not granted herein” as proof that any rights not specifically mentioned are retained by the estate.

The estate is not happy with the game because it believes it tarnishes Tolkien’s name. The lawsuit claims that Tolkien’s famously devoted fan base is “outraged” at its existence.

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.

The defendants have not commented on the suit.

In cases where an issue develops years into a relationship and it is not clear how (or if) the governing agreement applies to the situation, having a conversation with an attorney about the matter can be very helpful. Of course you want to pursue business opportunities to maximum profitability, but naturally you do not want to do so if it is not allowed and would result in costly and time-consuming litigation.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, “Tolkien Estate Sues Warner Bros. Over ‘Lord of the Rings’ Slot Machines (Exclusive)” Matthew Belloni, Nov. 19, 2012