Wellington Scoop

Tolkien estate sues Hobbit producers, challenges merchandising

Mere weeks before the release of the first film in the long-anticipated big-screen adaptation of The Hobbit, the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien has sued the film’s producers, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The US publication says the estate is claiming that the producers are overstepping their rights when it comes to merchandising the property and The Lord of the Rings.

In an $80 million lawsuit filed on Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles and obtained by The Hollywood Reporter, the Tolkien estate and its book publisher HarperCollins claim that Warner Bros., its New Line subsidiary and Rings/Hobbit rightsholder Saul Zaentz Co. have infringed the copyright in the famous books and breached a contract.

The crux of the suit is the estate’s contention that a decades-old rights agreement entitles the studio to create only “tangible” merchandise based on the books, not an “online slot machine” or other digital exploitations that the estate calls highly offensive.

It wants an injunction against the infringing games and other products that exceed the scope of the rights grant, as well as more than $80 million in damages.

The estate is especially peeved about new gambling games developed with story elements from Lord of the Rings. “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.”