Some of the biggest names in gaming could be checking the small print of their licensing deals following a decision by the estate of author JRR Tolkien to sue film-makers Warner Bros for breach of contract when it comes to Lord of the Rings themed slots.
The Tolkien estate and the book’s publishers, HarperCollins, is claiming damages of US$80m, having alleged that Warner Bros has breached contractual obligations by allowing a collection of unauthorised Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit-themed merchandise. It claims that Warner Bros is only allowed to create ‘tangible’ products, such as ‘figurines, tableware, stationary items, clothing and the like.’ Amongst the ‘intangible’ products that it claims infringes the contract are those based on digital and electronic content such as downloadable video games, slot machines and online slot machines. The estate claims that the gambling element of themed merchandise has caused ‘irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works.’ It described the games as ‘morally questionable.’
Lawyers representing the estate claim that some Lord of the Rings fans have been outraged by the film’s link to casino gaming in the basis of their lawsuit, claiming the presumption is that the estate consented to the commercialisation.
The brand licensing agreement dates back to 1969, and refers directly to ‘electronic or digital rights.’
Two Lord Of The Rings slot machine franchises have been permitted so far, one for land-based slot machines, which was granted to WMS Gaming, and one for internet slot content which was granted to Microgaming.
Microgaming announced the licence to release a trilogy of Lord Of The Rings slots through a deal with Warner Bros Digital Distribution in January 2010. Its games were used online by Virgin, Ladbrokes and 32Red Casino. WMS’ slot tribute to the film first appeared in casinos in July 2010 utilising the company’s Adaptive Technology and surround sound gaming chair.