After years tangled up in court, Warner Brothers has finally settled a copyright infringement lawsuit for $80 million filed by the Tolkien estate. The lawsuit was centered on a breach of contract claim for merchandising Tolkien’s characters beyond what was originally agreed to by both parties. This included the rights to an online gambling game, which Tolkien’s estate (rightfully) argued denigrated the author and his work. Warner Brothers had originally countersued, claiming millions of dollars in losses directly caused by the lawsuit.
It now seems they’ve exhausted all efforts to jam this up in court in deciding to settle the case, finalizing what’s been an embarrassing chapter for Warner in their relationship with Tolkien’s work.
The NY Times first reported the news, and although terms of the settlement were not disclosed, it was likely a hefty payday for the estate. The original 1969 agreement between the parties only granted Warner the right to sell “tangible personal property” such as “figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like.” Because electronic or digital rights weren’t included, Warner had little to stand on here. Despite their best efforts to drag out the proceedings, their final decision to settle was the right one and reflects the overall weakness of their position.