It’s certainly been a tough week for Middle Earth.
First there were allegations of animal rights violations on the rather extensive set of The Hobbit, which Peter Jackson and company vigorously denied, and now the Tolkien estate is suing Warner Bros. for $80 million over Lord of the Rings (online) slot machines and other unauthorized merchandise.
As with most lawsuits, you probably had no idea there were even Lord of the Rings slot machines in the first place until reading this article. The agreement with the Tolkien estate says merchandising should be for "tangible" merchandise, but according to the Hollywood Reporter, the agreement doesn’t including games that you can download on mobile devices.
Part of the lawsuit reads that "the original parties 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. They did not include any grant of exploitations such as electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles…"
In an article in Wired about the litigation, Erik Wecks wrote that with this suit, Christopher Tolkien, who manages his father’s legacy, "doesn’t want to see the intellectual tour de force that is his father’s work reduced to slot machines and hack-and-slash online games."
Christopher himself told the magazine Le Monde, "The chasm between the beauty and seriousness of the work, and what it has become, has gone too far for me. Such commercialization has reduced the aesthetic and philosophical impact of this creation to nothing."
While I wouldn’t quite put it that way and don’t feel that any silly online games are going to put a dent in the incredible Tolkien legacy, you can understand why the gatekeeper of any estate would not want their property to get doled out to just anyone.
Whoever’s in charge of an estate, or how a property is merchandised, should of should be selective and protective, unless they want to sell out and don’t care about integrity. In the case of the Lord of the Rings movies, there’s plenty of money to go around, and you can definitely afford to be selective in terms of merchandising.