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Tolkien Family Files Suit; Claims $80M Damage for 'Hobbit,' 'Lord of the Rings' Merchandise

The Tolkien family filed a lawsuit Monday in the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against the producers of the films "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit," claiming $80 million in damages for online merchandise that is not included in the contract.

The Hollywood Reporter first reported the suit by the Tolkien estate, which is particularly upset about an online slot machine with a "Lord of the Rings" theme.

"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 suit reads.

Although the online gambling game is what seemingly set the Tolkien family off this time, at issue, they say, is that Warner Bros. and its New Line subsidiary have crossed the line with online and digital merchandise. The contract had only allowed for "tangible" merchandise inspired by Tolkien's books, they say. 

"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," the complaint states. "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 Tolkien estate said they resorted to a lawsuit when discussion failed.  Warner's Bros. has declined to comment on the suit. 

J.R. R. Tolkien is an English author best known for his classic fantasy works "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit." He was a close friend of fellow English writer and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis of "The Chronicles of Narnia" fame.

The "Lord of the Rings" movie series have earned about $6 billion from the box office, DVDs and merchandise. Forbes ranks Tolkien as the 5th top-earning dead celebrity in 2009.

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