ByMark Newton, writer at
Movie Pilot Associate Editor. Email: [email protected]
Mark Newton

The battle between Thorin's Company and Smaug isn't the only conflict that has been plaguing Middle Earth. There is also the vicious and protracted legal war between the forces of Warner Bros. Entertainment and the rebellious legal troops of the Tolkien Estate.

Last year, the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien launched a pre-emptive contract attack in which they claimed Warner Bros. had breached their legal treaties by using The Hobbit's characters and copyright protected territory for online games and slot machines. Following the surprise offensive, which launched last November, Tolkien's family and book publisher HarperCollins were demanding reparations of $80 million from the studio superpower.

It wasn't long before Warner Bros. amassed their law troops and counterattacked with their own devastating legal statute strike. While holed up in their Hollywood fortress, Warner Bros. sallied forth in March and unleashed a massive payload of copyright precedent and breach of contract legal claims. They suggested that as a result of the Tolkien estate's legal bellicosity, the studio lost valuable resources and were unable to adequately support and market The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

The Warner attack was further supported by their allies, the Saul Zaentz Co., who launched a legal flanking move against the Tolkien insurrection by suggesting they had breached an implied understanding of good faith.

The conflict was eventually brought to the attention of the US court system, who after long and lengthy negotiations have backed the Warner-Zaentz alliance's right to make counterclaims. U.S. District Judge Audrey Collins stated:

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.

This certainly isn't the end of the conflict, and peace has yet to be made. I'm sure we will still see a long and protracted campaign which will become bogged down in the dangerous and complex terrain of copyright contract law. For the meantime, however, it seems Warner Bros. have the the upper-hand in this epic war of who gets to slap Gandalf's face on a slot machine.

What do you think? Who do you support in this battle: The Tolkien rebels, or Warner Bros. and all their legal might? Let me know below!

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