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Warner Bros. settles lawsuit with J.R.R. Tolkien’s family

Now everyone's happy! (Screenshot: Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King)

Another J.R.R. Tolkien saga has come to an end, as Variety reports that the five-year legal battle between the Lord Of The Rings author’s estate and Warner Bros. has been settled. In 2012, Tolkien’s family, along with publishers HarperCollins, filed an $80 million lawsuit against the movie studio for copyright infringement over the use of the epic fantasy’s imagery for such garish Middle-earth concerns as “online slot machines and digital merchandising.” In asking luck to be a lady of Lothlórien, Warner Bros. had engaged in “digital exploitation,” because neither Tolkien’s heirs nor his publisher had okayed the use of his characters and lore for slot machines. But the defendant countersued, claiming it had lost “millions of dollars in license fees” from merchandising.

As far as licensing litigation goes, Tolkien’s family has been there and back again, having sued New Line/MGM Films in 2009 over profit participation. They won that suit, though the terms were kept confidential. According to Variety, that’s also the case with this latest agreement. While no particulars have been made available, the publication has learned that “no fees or costs are to be awarded by the court and that no party is entitled to recover fees or costs.” A Warner Bros. spokesperson tells Variety that “the parties are pleased that they have amicably resolved this matter and look forward to working together in the future.” Between that and the lack of awarded damages, it’s kind of like this never happened. But while the result of the conflict is nowhere near as decisive a victory as, say, the destruction of Isengard, at least it means that the two parties can continue to work together on whatever their next joint venture will be—maybe a tasteful collection of commemorative plates?


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