It was always going to be a bit of a gamble trying to turn a sweeping cinematic blockbuster into an internet betting game. Despite featuring short movie clips and claiming to introduce players to “Vast valleys, breathtaking waterfalls, snowy mountain peaks… Hobbits, wizards, elves and dwarfs”, The Fellowship of the Ring online slot machine is, after all, basically a succession of spinning icons followed by a moment of jubilation or, more likely, disappointment.
But now, Warner Bros, which licenses the game, is facing the possibility of a more substantial loss of its own as the estate of Lord of the Rings creator JRR Tolkien has filed an $80m (£50.3m) lawsuit disputing the studio's right to produce “intangible” merchandise such as the internet game.
The Tolkien estate and its book publisher HarperCollins claim that Warner Bros, its subsidiary New Line Cinema and the Saul Zaentz Company, which holds the rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, have breached a decades-old contract allowing them to create only “tangible” merchandising spin-offs, such as "figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like."
In a lawsuit filed in the US District Court of Los Angeles, and seen by The Hollywood Reporter, the estate says the agreement "[does] not include any grant of exploitations such as electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services," which would also exclude video games downloaded to mobile devices or available on sites like Facebook.
Along with the breach of copyright suit, the Tolkien estate also claims that the gambling game is damaging to the Lord of the Rings brand, saying it has caused "irreparable harm to Tolkien's legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works."
Tolkien fans may not all be legal experts but they are at least entitled to an opinion on that second claim. See the Fellowship of the Rings online slot machine in action below and judge for yourself...
Warner Bros has so far declined to respond to the claims.