Warner Bros sued by Tolkien estate over slot machines

Tolkiens are not happy with the Lord of the Rings copyright usage

The estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and publisher HarperCollins are suing Warner Bros for $80 million (£50 million) over what it calls 'highly offensive' merchandising.

It's claimed that the movie studio - which is making the forthcoming 'Hobbit' films with Peter Jackson - along with some of its subsidiaries and another rights-holder Saul Zaentz Co. have overstepped the mark in terms of its copyright agreements.

[Related story: Jackson denies Hobbit animal death claims]

Tolkiens... set to sure Warner Bros. for $80 million (Copyright: Warner Bros)

One area the estate is particularly upset about is the 'Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game', an online game which appears on many gambling sites.

The agreement between the estate and rights-holders is that they can only produce 'tangible' merchandise related to the books, and that such games breach copyright. The estate is also unhappy about plans to bring out actual branded 'Lord of the Rings' slot machines.

Fans have been angered at the commercialisation of Tolkien's books, a fact that is stated in the lawsuit, which says that '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'.

It adds that Warner and the other defendants have 'with increasing boldness, engaged in a continuing and escalating pattern of usurping rights to which they are not entitled'.

It's not the first time that the Tolkien Trust has taken legal action over its intellectual property, settling a $150 million case over profits from the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy in 2009.