Warner Bros: “Tolkien Estate Is In Breach Of Contract” Over Online Gaming Rights

By March 14, 2013

I don’t even know HOW to begin to tell this one, so I’m just gonna go there and back again…(GET IT?!)

Back in November of last year, the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and book publisher HarperCollins filed a lawsuit for $80 million against Warner Bros, New Line and the producers of Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit, claiming copyright infringement in the books and breach of contract for “overstepping their rights” in the form of unauthorized tie-ins (online slot machines and online gaming).


The estate claims that there was an agreement LONG in place that the studio could “create only ‘tangible’ merchandise based on the books themselves and NOT online slot machines or other ‘digital exploitations’.”

As a gamer, even I find this gross.

As Tolkien himself wasn’t a huge fan of what technology could do and the effects it could have on those who use/abuse it, that seems fair…but here’s where it gets ridiculous and Sauron-like in scale.

THEN the Saul Zaentz Co (LOTR/The Hobbit‘s rightsholder) counterclaimed that the Tolkien estate themselves are in breach over “an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” when they filed said lawsuit.

And now, Warner Bros (represented by tough as nails attorney Daniel Petrocelli) have jumped into the dogfight, saying the estate’s “repudiation” (rejecting, disowning or disclaiming as invalid) and “alleged breach of contract” cost the studio millions in licensing opportunities AND is now demanding damages.

But wait, there’s more.

Pointing to a merchandising agreement from United Artists back in 1969 (which Warner Bros and Zaentz were the “successors-in-interest”), WB says they’ve been “exploiting the rights for some time” and that EVERYONE involved knew Zaentz held the rights to online video games as long as 16 years ago. But because a “Regrant (to grant back again, anew OR granting back to former owner) Agreement” brought up in 2010, WB is claiming they’ve been damaged over the ensuing battle.

WB claims they and WMS Gaming were teaming up to make Hobbit-themed slot machine for casinos (something else I’m sure Tolkien would’ve absolutely HATED) but because they were unable to do so, cost them (WB) “millions in licensing fees.”

“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.”

Never one to back down from a fight herself, Tolkien estate’s attorney Bonnie Eskenazi retorted:

“The defendants’ amended counterclaims are nothing more than an effort to sue the Tolkiens and HarperCollins for suing them.  They are entirely without merit and are a classic example of studio “bullying tactics.”  The Tolkiens and HarperCollins filed this lawsuit in order to force WB and Zaentz to live within the boundaries of the contract to which they agreed. WB’s and Zaentz’s amended counterclaims are simply an attempt to punish the Tolkiens and HarperCollins for having the nerve to stand up to the studios and tell them that they can’t take more rights than were granted to them by contract.  Luckily, the law protects people like the Tolkiens and HarperCollins from these kinds of intimidation tactics.”

My precious.

Not to mention the WB’s claims that “the repudiation of online gaming rights has decreased exposure for The Hobbit” and it’s remaining two films is LAUGHABLE; considering how many bag trades I went through at last year’s San Diego Comic Con to get an official The Hobbit souvenir bag (like the one pictured above) and THEN having to turn down offers upwards of $500 for it while seeing multiple tweets on Twitter asking anyone if they were willing to “tradsies” or sell outright, I SERIOUSLY doubt there is such a thing as “decreased exposure” when it comes to these particular films or ANYthing directed by Peter Jackson in general.

But of course, we’ll still be getting the other scheduled films in the trilogy because hey, money.

So are we looking at a real-life “One Ring To Rule Them All” situation? It sure does seem like it. Pretty sure if Tolkien were still alive, he’d be pissed right about now but then again, if he were alive, NONE of this crap would be going on.

I’ll be watching this one closely.


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Cricket Lee
Star Wars fangirl. Named Best Kisser by Time Magazine. CEO/Host: Girl Gamer; host of Gecken: GeekNation; writer: Dread Central. You'll have a crush on me soon. Vote Quimby. Twitter: @crixlee http://www.imdb.me/crixlee