Tolkien estate sues over Rings merchandising

Last updated 05:00 22/11/2012

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The Hobbit curse has struck again, with J R R Tolkien's estate suing the film's producers to the tune of $98 million for overstepping rights for Lord of the Rings merchandising and property.

Hollywood Reporter, which has obtained a copy of the lawsuit filed in a United States district court in Los Angeles this week, reports that the Tolkien family and publisher HarperCollins allege Warner Bros, New Line, and Saul Zaentz Co - which holds the film rights to all Tolkien's works - have infringed copyright and breached a contract.

The lawsuit, filed just over a week out from The Hobbit premiere in Wellington on Wednesday, alleges the studios have done "irreparable harm" to the author's legacy by authorising inappropriate merchandise, including Lord of the Rings-themed online gambling games.

The suit is for US$80m, or NZ$98m, in damages plus an injunction on games and other products that allegedly breach the agreement.

The estate is arguing that the agreement allows the studio to create only "tangible" merchandise. "The original contracting parties thus contemplated a limited grant of the right to sell consumer products of the type regularly merchandised at the time, such as figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like," the lawsuit says.

"They 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."

The estate said it learned of the existence of the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: online slot game via a spam email in 2010.

That caused it to investigate and discover Warner was planning real-world slot machines with Rings characters.

It was also planning other products that fell outside the original agreement, the estate claims. Warners would not comment yesterday.

The term "Hobbit curse" was coined for the production by lead actor Martin Freeman after the departure of original director Guillermo del Toro, a delay in filming after replacement director Sir Peter Jackson required surgery for a perforated stomach ulcer, and a high profile industrial dispute threatening the films.

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