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Tolkien family files suit for 'morally questionable' marketing of 'Rings'

Tolkien family files suit: The heirs of J.R.R. Tolkien are suing producers of two Tolkien moves, 'Lord of the Rings' and 'The Hobbit' for selling digital rights to an online slot machine game. The family filed suit in Los Angeles.

By Nick PerryAssociated Press / November 21, 2012

Actor Ian McKellen is shown in a scene from the film "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." The J.R.R. Tolkien family says the producers of The Hobbit and 'Lord of the Rings' have gone beyond their merchandising rights and filed a law suit.

REUTERS/James Fisher /Warner Bros Entertainment/Handout

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Wellington, New Zealand

The heirs of late author J.R.R. Tolkien are suing the producers of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" movie trilogies over alleged exploitative merchandizing.

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The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, comes a week before the premiere of the "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" in Wellington. The first film in the trilogy hits theaters worldwide next month.

The estate of Tolkien is upset at what it calls "morally questionable" digital marketing including a Lord of the Rings online slot machine, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. The Tolkien estate is seeking $80 million from Warner Bros., its New Line subsidiary and rights holder Saul Zaentz Co.

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Warner Bros. declined to comment on the claims.

Tolkien's family contends a merchandizing agreement extends only to tangible products such as figurines and clothing and not to electronic rights.

"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," the family claims in the lawsuit.

The family says lengthy discussions with the producers over the disagreement proved fruitless and that it fears the scope of online merchandizing will only increase with the release of the 'Hobbit' movies.

Tolkien's heirs settled a lawsuit over the "Lord of the Rings" movies for an undisclosed amount in 2009, allowing production to proceed on "The Hobbit."

That lawsuit against New Line Cinema claimed Tolkien's trust received only an upfront payment of $62,500 for the three movies before production began but was due 7.5 percent of the gross receipts. The "Rings" films earned an estimated $6 billion from movie tickets, DVDs and merchandise.

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