When the Tolkien Estate and HarperCollins’ sued Warner Bros., New Line and Rings/Hobbit rightsholder Saul Zaentz in November, they told the court that The Lord of the Rings is “reported to be the second most-read book in the United States after the Bible.” (Maybe you thought that honor belonged to Redshirts?)
But in Saul Zaentz’ answer to the lawsuit he is quick to correct the mistaken impression that LOTR’s or The Hobbit’s value has anything to do with the books:
Zaentz admits that The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (and associated and proprietary characters, elements and marks) are among the most famous and valuable marks in the world, and that an excellent reputation and highly valuable goodwill has been developed in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (and associated characters, elements and marks) and in the products, goods and services featuring them. Zaentz denies that this is a result of Plaintiffs’ efforts; rather, the fame and goodwill developed in these marks, products, goods, and services is largely the result of the dedicated efforts of Zaentz and its licensees (including Warner Bros.) over the past four decades.
The answer also calls upon the court the affirm that under earlier agreements with the Tolkien Estate Zaentz holds “broad merchandising rights in such services such as hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, ringtones, and online games, casino gambling and online/downloadable video games.”
This includes Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring: Online Slot Game, the most notorious example of the digital exploitation of Tolkien’s brand. (See What Has It Got In Its Jackpotses?) The Estate’s view is that the “defendants have, with increasing boldness, engaged in a continuing and escalating pattern of usurping rights to which they are not entitled.” However, Zaentz’ answer claims they have been doing this without objection for a long time, and that in 1996 the parties confirmed rights to online video games.
If I were uncharitable, I would call Zaentz, et al. liars; instead I’ll be charitable and postulate that they’re insane and/or came into this universe from an alternate reality.
With any franchise, people want to see anything that goes beyond the initial inspiration. Sometimes this isn’t bad. There are some geeky things I like, like music sound tracks and illustrations. But Hobbit burgers are not a good idea. I’d place some blame on the estate for not thinking it through.