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Tolkien Estate Sues Warner Bros. Over Lord of The Rings Slots Game
It was a busy week in the U.S., filled with Thanksgiving dinner preparations, Black Friday shopping sprees, and civil litigation.
That's right. The land of opportunity saw the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien, famed Hobbit author, launch an $80 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. for copyright infringement and breach of contract.
At issue is whether Warner Bros.' licensing of the "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Online Slots Game" is within the studio's rights.
In 1969, The Tolkien estate signed a contract with Saul Zaentz - the man who still owns the rights to the upcoming Hobbit film and the Lord of the Rings trilogy - which entitled Warner Bros. to license "tangible" merchandise based on the books. Since then, all manner of Hobbit-related toys, collectibles, films and marketing materials have been produced.
In 2010, Warner Bros. licensed the Lord of the Rings brand to Microgaming, an online gambling software company that, in turn, created the Lord of the Rings slots game. The game features pictures of Frodo, Aragorn, and Arwen throughout, and is hosted at several online gambling sites wherein users pay real money for spins.
The Tolkien estate claims that online gambling - because who could have foreseen the advent and proliferation of electronic media - does not fall under the "tangible" merchandise umbrella agreed to in its 1969 contract with Warner Bros., and argues that the contract includes a clause wherein the estate reserves all rights not specifically covered by the agreement.
The estate also calls the slots game “offensive” and “exploitative,” and says that “Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of the 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 announcement of the lawsuit seems to clarify the sudden recall of the Lord of the Rings slots games earlier this year. The game, which had become one of Microgaming's biggest successes in the two years since its launch, was made unavailable almost overnight, and many industry insiders speculated that a breach in copyright agreement may have been the reason.
The lawsuit arrives just one week before the New Zealand premier of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first film in a new Hobbit Trilogy based on the fiction of Tolkein.