Last week the estate and trust of Professor J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with publisher HarperCollins, filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. in the United States District Court in Los Angeles, alleging copyright infringement and breach of contract.
At the heart of the lawsuit are claims that Warner Bros. went beyond the scope of licensing agreements by developing, licensing and selling downloadable video games as well as licensing the production and distribution of gambling games both online and in "brick and mortar" casinos around the world. As to the former claim, the Tolkien entities believe that the licensing agreements only give Warner Bros. the right to tangible merchandise, not intangible applications such as video games downloaded from the internet. As to the latter claim, the Tolkien entities believe that gambling rights were never granted to Warner Bros. and, to add insult to injury, the production of gambling games "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 Tolkien entities are seeking injunctive and declaratory relief as well as monetary damages in excess of $80 million. So far Warner Bros. has declined to comment on the lawsuit. Meanwhile, the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which stars Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Elijah Woods and Cate Blanchett, is set for release in a few weeks on December 14.