Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tolkien estate sues New Line Cinema

The Tolkien estate is reported to be suing New Line Cinema for lack of payment of royalties on the income from Peter Jackson's hugely successful Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

"The plaintiffs seek more than $150 million in compensatory damages, unspecified punitive damages and a court order giving the Tolkien estate the right to terminate any rights New Line may have to make films based on other works by the author, including "The Hobbit."

Such an order would scuttle plans by New Line to make a two-film prequel based on "The Hobbit." "Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson has already signed on to serve as executive producer on the project, which is tentatively slated to begin production next year, with releases planned for 2010 and 2011.

"The Tolkien trustees do not file lawsuits lightly, and have tried unsuccessfully to resolve their claims out of court," Steven Maier, an attorney for the Tolkien estate based in Britain, said in a statement. "New Line has not paid the plaintiffs even one penny of its contractual share of gross receipts despite the billions of dollars of gross revenue generated by these wildly successful motion pictures."

Maier also claims the film studio has blocked the Tolkien estate and the other plaintiffs from auditing the receipts of the last two films."

Having looked into and written about some past Tolkien IP disputes in my book and found Cathleen Blackburn, who represents the Tolkien trustees, to be tremendously thoughtful and helpful, my perspective fwiiw is that they take a very balanced approach to IP in practice. So when Steven Maier says they do not file lawsuits lightly, he can be taken seriously and has the record to prove it. The movie industry on the other hand don't have a similar history. So insofar as one can, without access to the full details of the case, I would be inclined to believe that justice requires that the Tolkien trustees prevail here.

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