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Tolkien estate suing Warner Bros over online slot machines

Guardians claim 'intangible' products not covered by 1969 licencing deal

The estate of JRR Tolkien is suing Warner Brothers over the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings IP, claiming that the media giant has violated terms of a 1969 licencing agreement by producing virtual slot machines based on the iconic stories.

The estate filed an $80 million claim against Warner Brothers and the company's New Line Cinema branch on Monday, citing a clause in the original contract which dictates that the licencing agreement extends only to tangible merchandising. Until now, games have been covered under this clause as long as they've come on a disc, but recent online slot games have angered the estate.

"The original contracting parties thus contemplated a limited grant of the right to sell consumer products of the type regularly merchandised at the time such as figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like," reads the filing.

"They did not include any grant of exploitations such as electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services."

The claimants see this as an ongoing process of erosion of the original contract, telling the court that Warner and other parties have, "with increasing boldness, engaged in a continuing and escalating pattern of usurping rights to which they are not entitled."

It seems that it has been the nature of the slots themselves, the gambling and the profiteering without artistic merit, which has pushed the estate into action, at least partly in response to the anger of many fans.

"Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of defendants' rights," the suit continues, "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."

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Latest comments (7)

Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.4 years ago
A bit stable-door-horse-bolted, this has been out for a decade:
http://www.bellfruitgames.co.uk/products/cat_c_awp/awp_lotr.htm

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 21st November 2012 11:38am

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John Bye Lead Designer, Future Games of London4 years ago
So what kind of payout do you get on the game for five Viggos in a row?

Somewhere in Oxford, Tolkein is spinning in his grave, faster than the tumblers on that virtual slot machine.
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Hm. Nobody mention to them that LotR:O is available free to download and play, then...
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Show all comments (7)
Dan Pearson European Editor, GamesIndustry.biz4 years ago
I'd wondered about that, Jessica. I suspect that maybe they're using the 'intangibility' argument as a way to leverage influence over undesirable content.
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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.4 years ago
I suspect that maybe they're using the 'intangibility' argument as a way to leverage influence over undesirable content.
Well, they've not objected to gambling for the last ten years at least - That link I posted above was just the UK pub machine. There's massive LOTR machines in Vegas right now.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 21st November 2012 3:12pm

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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game4 years ago
LotR online is not that relevant to the Warner Brothers licence argument, as far as I can see, it was not developed or published by Warner Brothers. So unless it was sub-licenced, it operates under a different licence.
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Sam Brown Programmer, Cool Games Ltd.4 years ago
Incidentally, by "The estate of JRR Tolkien", do you mean Middle-earth Enterprises/Saul Zaentz Company?

EDIT: Ah, no, it is a different entity.

"The film and merchandise rights for The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were sold by J.R.R. Tolkien in 1969, and are currently owned by Middle-earth Enterprises, a company controlled by Saul Zaentz."

That'll be where the licence is coming from. All I can say is it's taken them a while to notice (if I remember correctly, TE was busy suing WB/NLC for unpaid royalties until 2005).

I can remember working on licences before where we could only use properties from the film, not the original work, and sometimes not even use the actors likenesses. It all gets very murky and confusing.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Sam Brown on 21st November 2012 3:58pm

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