Hobbit gambling rights: Warner Bros countersues JRR Tolkien estate

The film studio is claiming damaged profits over a casino gaming deal for the Hobbit, while the Tolkien estate accuses it of bullying

Hell hath no fury like a Hollywood studio prevented from making vast amounts of money, in this case from slot machines based on beloved literary legacies. Reports have emerged that Warner Brothers is to countersue the estate of late Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien for standing in the way of a million-dollar licensing deal with a casino gaming company to produce Hobbit-branded one-armed bandits.

In a move that should prove about as popular with fans as the LA-based Tolkien rights holder Saul Zaentz's bid to force a Southampton pub to stop calling itself The Hobbit last year, Warner is demanding damages for alleged breach of contract. The move follows the Tolkien estate's $80m (£53.5m) lawsuit against producers of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films in November, which claimed studios had overstepped their rights by licensing slot machines based on Tolkien's earlier trilogy and aimed to stop it happening again with The Hobbit.

In its countersuit, Warner suggests that the lack of branded slot machines in casinos and arcades, along with online games, damaged the profitability of the first film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which debuted in December. The 3D fantasy adventure has so far made $1.01bn (£675m) across the globe and currently stands as the 14th highest-grossing film of all time. Warner's suit follows the example set by Zaentz's Saul Zaentz Company, which has sued the Tolkien estate on similar grounds, claiming breach of good faith and fair dealing.

The Warner suit states: "Because of the repudiation, Warner has not entered into license agreements for online games and casino slot machines in connection with The Hobbit – a form of customary exploitation it previously had utilised in connection with the Lord of the Rings trilogy – which has harmed Warner both in the form of lost license revenue and also in decreased exposure for the Hobbit films."

The Tolkien estate has hit back at the studio, accusing it of bullying tactics. "The defendants' amended counterclaims are nothing more than an effort to sue the Tolkiens and HarperCollins for suing them. They are entirely without merit and are a classic example of studio 'bullying tactics,'" said lawyer Bonnie Eskenazi, in a statement. "The Tolkiens and HarperCollins filed this lawsuit in order to force Warner Bros and Zaentz to live within the boundaries of the contract to which they agreed. Warner and Zaentz's amended counterclaims are simply an attempt to punish the Tolkiens and HarperCollins for having the nerve to stand up to the studios and tell them that they can't take more rights than were granted to them by contract. Luckily, the law protects people like the Tolkiens and HarperCollins from these kinds of intimidation tactics."


Ben Child

The GuardianTramp

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