Tolkien Estate v. Warner Bros ‘Lord of the Rings’ Slot Lawsuits Settled Out of Court

Posted on: July 4, 2017, 01:14h. 

Last updated on: July 4, 2017, 01:16h.

Entertainment monster Warner Bros and the estate of the late high-fantasy author JRR Tolkien have reached an out-of-court settlement in a long-running legal dispute between the two parties that erupted over the online slot game Lord of the Rings.

Warner Bros v Tolkien Estate slot game suit
Warner Bros and the estate of JRR Tolkien have settled their mutual lawsuits out of court this week, but terms were not disclosed. (Image: Warner Bros)

Tolkien’s heirs had sued WB in 2012 for copyright infringement, after receiving a spam email alerting them to the existence of Microgaming’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring online slot. The $80 million lawsuit claimed the film studio had unlawfully exploited its merchandising rights by licensing such products.

Tolkien granted those rights to United Artists back in 1969, but his estate claims this entitled the studio to license only “tangible personal property” based on the books, such as “figurines, tableware, stationary items, clothing and the like.”

The estate did not grant the creation of digital and gaming merchandise, it claims, which it has branded “highly offensive.”

Warner Bros is UA’s distributor, and also distributes The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings movie trilogies through its subsidiary, New Line Cinema.

Studio Countersues

“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,” states the Tolkien estate lawsuit.

But Warner Bros then countersued, alleging that the suit had cost it millions in licensing opportunities and also claiming breach of contract.

“Because of the repudiation, Warner has not entered into license agreements for online games and casino slot machines in connection with The Hobbit, a form of customary exploitation it previously had utilized in connection with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which has harmed Warner both in the form of lost license revenue and also in decreased exposure for the Hobbit films,” stated the counterclaim.

Coming to Terms

Now, five years later, the suits have been settled, according to a filing in the Central District Court of California, although it’s not clear whether there was a financial settlement, and if there was, who paid what to whom.

“The parties are pleased that they amicably resolved this matter and look forward to working together in the future,” Bonnie Eskenazi, an attorney for the Tolkien estate, told The New York Times via email.

This was not the first out-of-court settlement between the two entities. The Tolkien estate sued New Line in 2009, claiming it was owed around $220 million, due under the 1969 agreement which entitled it to 7.5 percent of gross receipts from the three Lord of the Rings films.

The Lord of the Rings is one of the most widely read literary works in the English language and its movie trilogy alone grossed a combined $3 billion at the box office worldwide.