Warner Bros. and the J.R.R. Tolkien estate have reached a settlement in the legal battle that has been going on since 2012. The conflict arose over interpretation of the rights contracts that affected the digital exploitation of The Lord of the Rings trilogy along with The Hobbit and its sequels. In the dispute, the Tolkien estate and publisher HarperCollins asserted that WB didn’t have the rights to the characters for anything other than “tangible” merchandise (books, toys, etc.). Their claim was that the decades-old contract didn’t allow for digital exploitation such as video games.
The suit came about as the result of the estate’s attorney getting a spam e-mail about the Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Online Slot Game, which set in motion an $80 million lawsuit in which the estate and HarperCollins alleged that WB, New Line, and the Saul Zaentz Co. infringed copyright and breached the contract for the adaptations.
Warners counter-sued, claiming that they were within their rights, and that the legal wrangling had caused them to miss out on millions of dollars in Hobbit licensing opportunities. The counter-suit moved forward after a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals following a district judge’s ruling that “these claims arise out of the parties’ divergent understanding of the Warner Parties’ and Zaentz’s rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. They are routine contract-based claims and counterclaims.”
The settlement comes just before both parties were set to file summary judgment motions in anticipation of a trial, which will now be avoided. Terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but it appears that digital exploitation is now in the “acceptable” column (at least partially) with the October release of Middle-Earth: Shadow of War from WBPlay and Playstation.
In a statement released this week, a representative for the studio said, “The parties are pleased that they have amicably resolved this matter and look forward to working together in the future.”