Lord of the Rings court case

The Lord of the Rings author was JRR Tolkien. He was a Professor of English Language and Literature at Oxford University in England. He died in 1973, aged 81.

He signed the movie rights to a company in Hollywood in 1969. This included rights to sell ‘tangible’ objects like models of the characters in the movies. ‘Tangible’ means things you can see and touch. However, now Hollywood is using Lord of the Rings characters for on-line gambling. Of course in 1969 it was impossible to imagine things like online games.

Now the Tolkien Trust as well as the publisher of the books, HarperCollins, are taking Warner Brothers to court in Los Angeles for US$80m.

The Tolkien Trust and HarperCollins are also worried that the movies, the sale of objects from the movies and other possible developments in the future – like a theme park – take people away from the books.

This is not the first court case between the Tolkien Trust and Hollywood. In 2008, the Trust sued New Line (owned by Warner Brothers) for a 7.5% share of the profits from the first two films. New Line said they had not made a profit because it was very expensive to make the movies, but in the end, the Tolkien Trust won the case.

Note: The premier (the first night) of The Hobbit is in Wellington on Wednesday this week.


  • Tolkien Trust – a charitable organisation set up in 1977 by Tolkien’s four children. The money is used to help people around the world.
    publisher – the company which buys the rights from the author to sell the book
    to sue – to take someone to a civil court for breaking a contract

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