HarperCollins and Tolkien estate settle £62m lawsuit against Warner Bros

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The estate of J R R Tolkien and HarperCollins have settled a lawsuit against Warner Bros over the licensing of online games, apps, slot machines and other types of gambling merchandise based on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings following a five-year dispute, Warner Bros has confirmed.

The settlement was reportedly worth $80m (£62m).

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins, which publishes both books, filed the lawsuit in 2012 alleging that Warners, its New Line subsidiary and Rings/Hobbit rightsholder Saul Zaentz Co. infringed copyright and breached contract by overstepping their authority. Priscilla Tolkien, the British author’s daughter, and the estate along with HarperCollins, claimed that a decades-old rights agreement entitled the studio to create only “tangible” merchandise based on the books, not other digital exploitations that the estate called highly offensive.

According to the Telegraph, Tolkien’s estate had accused the defendants of violating a 1969 agreement allowing the sale of “tangible” merchandise, by associating the books with the “morally-questionable (and decidedly non-literary) world of online and casino gambling”. The estate claimed this “outraged Tolkien’s devoted fan base” and irreparably harmed the legacy of the English author and Oxford English professor who died in 1973 at the age of 81.

According to the report, New Line and the Tolkien Estate had previously fought over profit participation, coming to a deal in 2009 rumoured to be worth more than $100 million. As Warner Bros developed the Peter Jackson big-screen adaptation of ‘The Hobbit’ (released in 2012), the Tolkien Estate allegedly began investigating digital exploitations after its lawyer received a spam e-mail about ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game’.

The Tolkien estate and HarperCollins reached a settlement with Time Warner Inc unit, New Line Cinema and Saul Zaentz Co, which held various marketing rights, in a Los Angeles court on Friday (30th June). It also resolved counterclaims by Warner Bros. and Zaentz.

Warner Bros spokesperson Paul McGuire said yesterday (3rd July): “The parties are pleased that they have amicably resolved this matter and look forward to working together in the future,”

The copyright lawsuit was filed in November 2012.

HarperCollins UK has declined to comment.

In March it was revealed that Oxford University’s Bodleian Library will release a title featuring illustrations, letters and other material from Tolkien’s archives that have never before been seen by the public, to coincide with a major exhibition on The Lord of the Rings author in 2018. It will open in June 2018.

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