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One does not simply walk into Mordor... without going through court first

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Published: June 13, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Want to know why no theme park yet has announced plans to build a The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit-themed land? Here is your answer.

That's a Variety article detailing the latest in the ongoing legal battle pitting the heirs of author J.R.R. Tolkien and publisher Harper Collins against the Zaentz Co. and Warner Bros. The TL;DR is that the Tolkien heirs are suing Warner et al because Warner and Zaentz licensed online video games for The Lord of the the Rings and the heirs say their 1969 rights deal with the studios allows only the license of games that come in an actual box.

Yeah.

The Lord of the Rings film trilogy promotional poster

Parties that are burning through thousands of billable hours fighting in court over stuff like that likely aren't anywhere near working together on a potential nine-figure (plus?) deal to expand their disputed licensing deal to allow something as permanent as a new theme park land.

The Tolkien heirs want more money and/or more control than they feel that they are getting. That's discouraging to any potential new partners wanting to license anything having to do with The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. Would you sign a big-money deal with Warner Bros. to develop a new LotR product if you thought that there was even the chance that your project would be held up in court by a lawsuit from the Tolkien family? You'd want to see Warner indemnify you against that before you'd even think about signing the deal, wouldn't you?

And if you're Warner Bros., you certainly don't want to take on the expense of those indemnity clauses if you're anything less than 100-percent certain of what your contract with the Tolkien heirs allows you to do. And that certainty can come only from a court's ruling or a legal settlement, at this point.

So that's where we are, as theme park fans. We are waiting for a court to hand down a ruling, or the parties to come to a settlement, that firmly establishes what can and cannot be licensed and who gets paid what for that. Until the Tolkien heirs can find a way to work together with Warner and Zaentz, they're not going to be able to add any major third party, including theme parks, into their relationship.

Readers' Opinions

From O T on June 13, 2014 at 11:21 AM
Wow, the whole thing is a bit sad. Not sure if I understand what is written or if it's true but the only thing I can say for sure is that almost all "middle earth" games are bad so it's nothing to do with quality.

As with Marvel, theme park rights are always a separate entity. On going court battles don't need per se to get in the way of realising a theme park rights construction.
If anything these lawyers cost an arm and a leg and a Potter like money maker could fund them for all the shenanigans they are up to in court.

I still hope Universal will end up with the license. I love the movies and they are the only company that can put me in those worlds without rocking me to sleep.

From Tim Odom on June 13, 2014 at 11:33 AM
Also, when you add in the fact that the Tolkien heirs religiously follow JRR Tolkien's wishes, and he deplored Walt Disney, you see that the one player in the theme park world with the most money, Disney, probably stands no chance of ever getting these rights.
From Robert Niles on June 13, 2014 at 11:55 AM
Thanks to the anon for the proofreading, BTW. I really need to stop editing posts on my phone. I always screw that up. :^(
From Anon Mouse on June 13, 2014 at 4:23 PM
Theme park rights are much more complicated. You can either just go for the original rights as per the source material, and/or you'll need to go to the movie studio for their version of the Lord of the Rings. You might need to get the rights of both sources if you want the theme park to resemble the images closely associated to the movie trilogy.

Warner Bros needs to ask the Estate for the theme park rights that they can use to develop their own theme park or reassign to the third party. This can't happen when the parties haven't settled their current dispute.

From 64.12.116.206 on June 14, 2014 at 12:03 AM
Tolkein's heirs are filthy rich thanks to a few books that their grandfather wrote. And what do they spend their time doing? Bellyaching and suing.
From 90.55.30.29 on June 15, 2014 at 6:55 AM
As far as the legal stuff goes, what was licensed by Tolkien seems extremely well defined. Since the current owners of the license apparently aimed to get more than what they were entitled to, it is no surprise the Tolkien Estate reacted.

Now, if such a move can prevent big corporations from further adulterating Tolkien's Middle-earth, it would probably be a very positive outcome...

From 68.57.174.151 on June 16, 2014 at 9:32 AM
I have a novel concept, read the book. Why does the workd need a them park? If Tolkein wanted that he would have allowed it to happen.
From David Matecki on June 16, 2014 at 9:57 AM
As amazing as a lord of the rings land would be I don't ever seeing this being settled. Not sure it is worth that much money.
From Robert Niles on June 16, 2014 at 9:57 AM
Let's welcome the Tolkien family and its lawyers to the anonymous comments! (Kidding... I think...)
From Tim Hillman on June 18, 2014 at 9:52 AM
The initial filing of the Tolkien Estate's lawsuit against Warner Brothers et al. indicates that theme park rights were actually brought up in the conflict resolution discussion between the parties before the suit was filed.

What does this mean for those of us who want to see a theme park adaptation of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit?

One: This will take some time to resolve. The Tolkien Estate is asking for upwards of $160M in damages, and at that level of damages, this case could take a long time to settle with all of the appeals, countersuits, and motions for delay and/or discovery.

Two: No theme park operator is going to touch the Tolkien franchises until the case is settled and the ownership of the theme park rights is firmly established. (Unless somebody is clever enough to come to agreement with both parties before the suit is resolved.)

Three: Theme park enthusiasts of the LOTR and the Hobbit should probably root for Warner Brothers to prevail since they will probably license the theme park rights fairly quickly to the highest bidder (which will hopefully be Universal and Comcast). If the Tolkien Estate wins, it is anybodys guess as to when if ever they would license the rights to anybody.

Personally, I think the suit by the Tolkien Estate has merit especially when it comes to the use of the names and the characters in online gambling and physical slot machines, but their hand would have been further strengthened if they had shown an actual interest in marketing the rights remaining to them in an active manner instead of sitting on their rear ends looking down their noses at any use of Tolkien's legacy that didn't meet their strict puritanical Tolkien literary standards.

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