Another Year, Another Copyright Infringement Lawsuit for Warner Bros.

On Wednesday, we referenced a copyright infringement lawsuit that Warner Bros. settled last year in regards to tattoo art it used for “The Hangover Part II.” On November 20, 2012, Bloomberg reported that the estate of late author J.R.R. Tolkien is suing Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros. Entertainment unit for alleged copyright infringement and breach of contract. The lawsuit is seeking at least $80 million in damages and alleges that the studio and its subsidiaries do not have the right to license gambling games with “Lord of the Rings” characters and story elements.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the estate contends that a decades-old rights agreement allows the studio to create only “tangible” merchandise based on the books, not an “online slot machine” or “digital exploitations” that the estate called “highly offensive.” The estate is seeking an injunction against the infringing games and other products that exceed the scope of the rights grant, according to the Reporter.

“The original contracting parties thus contemplated a limited grant of the right to sell consumer products of the type regularly merchandised at the time such as figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like,” the complaint states. “They did 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.”

The lawsuit cites a 1969 agreement that granted limited merchandising rights in “all articles of tangible personal property” other than novels, paperbacks and other publishing. Entertainment Weekly reported that the lawsuit interprets the “tangible property” clause to exclude “downloadable video games based on “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” available only by downloading and/or access via the Internet, via mobile apps, tablet apps or other similar digital distribution channels, or through other online interconnectivity such as Facebook.”

Los Angeles business litigation attorney Robert G. Klein has more than 25 years of experience representing clients in complex business matters, and you can find more information about drafting contracts on our website. If you need legal assistance with such contractual matters as confidentiality agreements, trademark protection or patent licensing, contact our firm at [number] or fill out the form on this page to let our Los Angeles breach of contract lawyers review your case.

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