J.R.R Tolkien and Warner Bros settle $80 million Hobbit lawsuit

Ryan Leston
·UK Movies Writer
Warner Bros and the Tolkien Estate finally reach an agreement - Credit: Warner Bros.
Warner Bros and the Tolkien Estate finally reach an agreement - Credit: Warner Bros.

Warner Bros. just avoided an epic legal battle…

… with ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘The Hobbit’ originator, J.R.R Tolkien.

After years of litigation, it looks as though the Tolkien Estate has amicably settled out of court with the Warner Bros. film studio following a dispute surrounding digital rights.

The Tolkien Estate and book publisher HarperCollins previously filed an $80 million suit back in 2012, which alleged that Warner Bros, New Line and rightsholder Saul Zaentz Co. infringed copyright and breached contract by overstepping their authority. The reason? The plaintiffs claimed that their decades-old rights agreement only entitled the studio to ‘tangible’ merchandise based on the books… and this did not cover digital exploitations which they deemed ‘highly offensive’.

I guess someone wasn’t a fan of ‘Lord of the Rings Online’, then.

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Actually, the problems seem to have risen from a spam email received by the Tolkien Estate attorney, which detailed a newly-launched ‘Lord of the Rings’ online slots game… and you have to admit, an online gambling game based on the books isn’t exactly in good taste.

“[While] Warner Bros. readied a Peter Jackson big-screen adaptation of The Hobbit, the Tolkien Estate began investigating digital exploitations when its attorney received a spam e-mail about the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game,” says The Hollywood Reporter. “The subsequent complaint filed in court talked about irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation from the prospect of everything from online games to housing developments.”

Warner Bros and the Tolkien Estate finally reach an agreement - Credit: Warner Bros.
Warner Bros and the Tolkien Estate finally reach an agreement – Credit: Warner Bros.

It certainly looks as though Warner Bros. did themselves no favours…

But the studio wasn’t going to back down over such a high-profile claim.

Soon enough, Warner Bros. filed counterclaims which alleged that repudiation of a 1969 contract and 2010 regrant caused the studio to miss out on million in ‘The Hobbit’ licensing as well as decreased exposure for the 2012 movie, ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’.

They also contended that digital exploitations was customary… and well within its rights.

At this point, the legal battle started to get even bloodier. It was a point of contention whether or not Warner Bros. could ‘sue for being sued’… but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals finally agreed that Warner Bros. had properly asserted its contract claims.

Still, it looks as though the ongoing dispute has finally been laid to rest.

Although the dispute has sat outside the public eye for the last few years, it looks as though their bloody legal battle has slogged on unseen… and while terms of the settlement have not been made publicly available, it looks as though they’ve settled on good terms.

At least, if the upcoming release of ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’ is anything to go by.

Have we finally seen the end of Warner Bros. and J.R.R Tolkien’s legal disputes?

For now, we’ll have to wait and see.

But for now, it looks as though they’ve buried the hatchet.

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