Tolkien Heirs vs. New Line: Trial to Go Before Jury

06.09.09 | Kunochan | 1 Comment

Photo by adactio -- some rights reservedOriginally published on JRR Tolkien Examiner on 6/4/09.

A suit filed against New Line Cinema, producers of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings film trilogy, by the heirs of author JRR Tolkien will be decided by a jury, a state court judge has ruled.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones this week rejected motions filed by New Line that she, rather than a jury, should decide on the suit’s claims. However, the judge left open the possibility of changing her mind at a later date.

The case is expected to go to trial in October.

The lawsuit, filed in February 2008 by the Tolkien Trust, alleges that New Line has failed to pay Tolkien’s heirs more than $220 million. The Trust claims that under a contract signed by Tolkien in 1969, his heirs and others are owed 7.5% of the films’ gross receipts and related profits.

There is still the possibility that the Trust’s lawsuit could delay or derail the upcoming The Hobbit film adaptation (see below).

The Tolkien Trust is a British charity founded in 1977 that manages Tolkien’s estate.

This is far from the only lawsuit filed over profits from the LOTR films. Film producer Saul Zaentz has sued New Line, claiming he is owed royalties. He acquired film rights to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings in 1976, and produced the execrable 1978 animated version directed by Ralph Bakshi. Through Tolkien Enterprises, Zaentz owns the worldwide film, stage, and merchandise rights to The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Trilogy director Jackson’s production company, Wingnut Films, questioned New Line’s accounting methods, and sued the production company. New Line announced that Jackson would have no part in producing or directing the upcoming The Hobbit film or films. However, this conflict was resolved out of court, and Jackson has been signed to executive produce and co-write a two-part The Hobbit adaptation for release at Christmas 2011 and 2012.

Sixteen cast members sued over revenue from merchandise bearing their likenesses — the case was settled out of court in 2008.

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