Tolkien heirs in 'Hobbit slots' row
The heirs of late author JRR Tolkien are suing the producers of The Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit film trilogies over what they say is exploitative merchandising.
The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Los Angeles, comes a week before the premiere of the The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington, New Zealand. The opening film in the trilogy hits world cinemas next month.
The estate of Tolkien is upset at what it calls "morally questionable" digital marketing including an online slot machine, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
The Tolkien estate is seeking 80 million dollars (£54 million) from Warner Bros, its New Line subsidiary and rights holder Saul Zaentz Co.
Warner Bros declined to comment on the claims.
Tolkien's family says a merchandising agreement extends only to tangible products such as figurines and clothing and not to electronic rights. "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 family claims in the lawsuit.
The family says lengthy discussions with the producers over the disagreement proved fruitless and that it fears the scope of online merchandising will only increase with the release of the Hobbit movies.
Tolkien's heirs settled a lawsuit over the Lord Of The Rings films for an undisclosed amount in 2009, allowing production to proceed on The Hobbit.
That lawsuit against New Line Cinema claimed Tolkien's trust received only an upfront payment of 62,500 dollars (£39,300) for the three films before production began, but was due 7.5% of the gross receipts.
The Rings films earned an estimated six billion dollars (£3.7 billion) from film tickets, DVDs and merchandise.