Studio won't comment on Tolkien lawsuit

NZ Newswire Updated November 21, 2012, 6:24 pm

Warner Bros won't comment on a lawsuit by the estate of author J.R.R Tolkien claiming that the film giant abuses its right for merchandising connected to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Ahead of the world premiere in Wellington next week, the family of author JRR Tolkien have announced they are suing the makers of The Hobbit for $US80 million ($NZ98m), saying they have overstepped their merchandising rights.

The lawsuit was filed in a Los Angeles court on Monday (local time), with Tolkien's estate - which also includes publishers Harper Collins - arguing a decades-old rights agreement entitles the studio to create only "tangible" merchandise based on the books, not an "online slot machine" or other "highly offensive" digital exploitations, the Hollywood Reporter reports.

The case is against Warner Bros, New Line Productions and the Saul Zaentz Company.

A spokesman for Warner Bros responded to a request on Tuesday for reaction by saying: "No comment at this time", Agence France-Presse reports.

The film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were sold in 1969, and according to the court paperwork, granted the buyers limited merchandising rights - to items regularly sold at the time, such as figurines, tableware, stationery and clothing.

However, since the success of the three Lord of the Rings movies, the studios had become increasingly bold in their merchandising, the estate said.

The studios were making downloadable video games based on The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, which went beyond the description of "tangible" merchandise.

But the family was especially angered by the development of online gambling games and casino slot machines using characters and story elements from the Lord of the Rings.

"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."

Tolkien's estate said they had never granted any permission to develop the video or gambling games.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the first of which was released in 2001, has been estimated to have earned its makers profits of $US1.17 billion.

The first of the three Hobbit films will be premiered in Wellington on Wednesday next week.

All six movies were filmed in New Zealand and directed by Sir Peter Jackson.

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