The estate of JRR Tolkien is suing the producers of The Hobbit for US$80 million for online slot machines that apparently breach contract.
Apparently, the makers of The Hobbit have been dealing out rights where they had none to offer. Under the terms of the 1969 sale of film rights, any and all merchandise must be tangible; for instance, action figures, jewellery, clothing and stationery.
HarperCollins and the Tolkien estate are now suing Warner Bros, New Line Productions and Middle-earth Enterprises to the tune of US$80 million for violating that agreement, which "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".
This includes, naturally, digital downloads of the film (such as through iTunes); digitally downloaded games, including the recently released freemium town-management sim for mobile, The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth; and online slot machines themed after the films.
These last, as well as real-world Lord of the Rings-themed slot machines in casinos, have caused the biggest bone of contention. The suit (PDF) said:
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. Fans have publicly expressed confusion and consternation at seeing The Lord of the Rings associated with the morally questionable (and decidedly non-literary) world of online and casino gambling.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Warner Bros has declined to comment.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey premieres in New Zealand on 28 November, and in Australia on 26 December.