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J.R.R. Tolkien estate sues Warner Bros. over gambling, games

By Eric Kelsey

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The estate of "The Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien and publisher HarperCollins have filed an $80 million lawsuit against Warner Bros. studios over the licensing of characters and plots in online and gambling games derived from the films.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles on Monday, alleges that Warner Bros. and its subsidiary New Line Cinema - which own the merchandising rights to the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" brands - infringed on copyrights by licensing to casino slot machines, online gambling, games and downloads.

Tolkien's estate accuses Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc., of "infringing conduct."

"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 stated.

The suit claimed Warner Bros. earned millions of dollars from legal merchandise licensing revenue related to "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy of films, which have grossed nearly $3 billion at the global box office.

The estate of the late English author and HarperCollins, a division of News Corp., are asking for at least $80 million in damages.

Representatives for Warner Bros., Tolkien's estate and HarperCollins were not immediately available for comment.

The lawsuit comes a week ahead of the New Zealand premiere of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first of a new trilogy of films returning to Tolkien's world of elves, goblins and wizards of Middle Earth, based on the "Lord of the Rings" prequel novel "The Hobbit."

(Reporting By Eric Kelsey; Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Mohammad Zargham)