The Tolkien estate and publisher HarperCollins have launched an $80 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. studios over the licensing of characters and plots from Tolkien's mythological Middle Earth.
The lawsuit alleges that Warner Bros. and its subsidiary New Line Cinema -- which owns merchandising rights to the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" -- infringed on copyrights by licensing the characters to casino slot machine makers and online gambling sites.
Lord of the Rings slot machines are a popular staple in many casino in Las Vegas and elsewhere, with the large, prominent machines often tied to community bonus rounds with video clips from the movies and action displayed above the slots on large video screens.
The damages sought in the lawsuit partly stem from claims that the brand has been tarnished and harmed by being linked to gambling:
"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 lawsuit states.
Tolkien's titles have turned into big business in recent years, with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy grossing nearly $3 billion at the box office and the premier of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (which will be the first film in its own trilogy) set to hit theaters shortly.
Popular movies have increasingly been featured in online slots as well as in slots at brick-and-mortar casinos, with many super heroes playing a starring role on the slot reels as well as slots featuring characters from classics such as "Star Wars", "Indiana Jones", and "Star Trek".