Lord of the Rings slots land Warner Bros. in legal adventure

A lawsuit filed by the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien alleges that the studio doesn't have the right to sell Lord of the Rings online games, slot machines, and related items.

Lance Whitney
Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
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The estate of J.R.R. Tolkien has embarked on a new quest -- this one in the courtroom.

The Tolkien estate and LOTR book publisher HarperCollins have sued Warner Bros. and other parties, claiming they've breached their contracted agreement to sell merchandise based on the famous book series.

Filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, the $80 million lawsuit asserts that a prior agreement allows Warner Bros. to sell only "tangible" merchandise and not digital items, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Also tagged in the suit were Warner's New Line subsidiary and Rings/Hobbit rightsholder Saul Zaentz Co.

Tolkien's estate says it first learned of the alleged contract breach in 2010 when its attorney received spam for the "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game." That triggered the estate to examine the original agreement, leading it to conclude that Warner Bros. was planning to create products outside the guidelines of the contract.

"Defendants also have asserted and continue to assert that they have rights relating to a wide variety of goods and services beyond 'articles of tangible personal property' and have registered trademarks and/or filed 'intent to use' applications in those same categories, including without limitation. hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, ringtones, online/downloadable games, and housing developments -- categories of rights which plainly have not been granted to them," the complaint said.

Though the suit names a variety of different items, the estate seems particularly upset over gambling games being associated with Tolkien's work.

"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," the complaint added.

Beyond seeking the $80 million in damages, the suit is looking for a ban on all of the infringing products. The lawsuit comes just a few weeks before the first chapter of Peter Jackson's Hobbit film is due to hit theaters.

The entire complaint can be read online courtesy of the Hollywood Reporter.