Just weeks before The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is due to theaters, Warner Bros. is facing a high-profile lawsuit. The Tolkien estate has sued the company for $80 million, claiming Warner Bros. is "usurping rights to which they are not entitled" with regards to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit merchandising materials, specifically virtual slot machines and online games.
The thrust of the suit (obtained by The Hollywood Reporter) is the Tolkien estate's assertion that Warner Bros. has violated a decades-old rights agreement that allows the company to create only "tangible" merchandise based on Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and not digital offerings.
The suit names numerous categories of goods that it is not pleased with, but specifically notes that its new gambling games are of significant harm. "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."
Additionally, the Tolkien estate is upset with downloadable video games based on the books that are available through mobile and tablet devices, as well as Facebook. In September, Warner Bros. partnered with social game studio Kabam for two new Hobbit-based free-to-play strategy games: The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth and The Hobbit: Armies of the Third Age. Both games are due this year.
A Warner Bros. representative was not immediately available for comment. The full suit is available here.