The Saul Zaentz Co., rightsholder on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit properties, has struck back against the estate of author J.R.R. Tolkien in a lawsuit over merchandising.
In November, Tolkien's heirs and and its book publisher HarperCollins filed an $80 million lawsuit that alleged that Rings/Hobbit producers including Warner Bros. had infringed the copyright in the books and breached a contract by overstepping their rights. The plaintiffs alleged that a decades-old deal only covered "tangible" merchandise, not stuff like slot machines.
The Saul Zaentz Co. has now brought counterclaims.
According to court papers filed earlier this month, Saul Zaentz Co. says that agreements struck in 1969 "impose no restriction whatsoever on the nature of the products, services, or businesses with with Zaentz's and its licensees' films may be associated, except for a limitation on certain print publications not at issue."
Zaentz also says that it and Warners have been exploiting online video games and gambling without objection for a long time -- and that in 1996, the parties confirmed rights to online video games.
A declaration that Zaentz has the right to use Tolkien marks in connection with games, hotels, restaurants, travel agencies, ringtones and more is now being sought.
In addition, the countersuit (read in full here) includes a claim that the Tolkien estate has breached an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
In more entertainment law news:
- The on-again, off-again litigation between director Julie Taymor and producers of the Broadway musical, Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, appears to be going dark again. Earlier in the month, the litigation was revived when the parties admitted there was still some work on the settlement negotiating front. Last week, Taymor's attorney Charles Spada notified the court that a final settlement agreement would be executed soon, describing the hold-up as being for producer 8 Legged Production and non-party Marvel Entertainment to to amend a license to produce the Spider-Man musical. Spada said that "8 Legged and Marvel will be executing a formal amendment to their licensing agreement within days."
- Speaking of Marvel, the studio has gotten out of an odd dispute over a briefcase featured in The Avengers. Last August, Rimowa GmbH, a German manufacturer of luxury travel briefcases, sued because the Topas attaché case seen being used by Samuel L. Jackson's character Nick Fury was allegedly repurposed as the packaging for Blu-ray versions of the film. Last week, the parties stipulated to dismiss the case with prejudice. No further terms of the agreement were made public.
- Nina Shaw, a talent dealmaker whose clients include Jamie Foxx and James Earl Jones, will be the honoree at this year's Beverly Hills Bar Assn. Entertainment Lawyer of the Year dinner. Shaw has appeared on THR's Power Lawyers and Women in Entertainment lists for several years and is noted as much for her mentoring of young people in Hollywood as she is for being an influential attorney. The event is April 16 at the Beverly HIlls Hotel.
- David Fierson has been promoted to general counsel and executive vp business affairs at Warner Bros.-based Alcon Entertainment. Fierson, named Alcon’s first in-house counsel in 2006, joined the Blind Side producer as vp business affairs.
- A fight over commissions owed by actor Tommy Lee Jones to his former talent agency William Morris Endeavor is over. In October, WME filed a petition in LA Superior Court seeking to confirm an arbitration ruling that Jones owed $1.95 million for work negotiated for No Country for Old Men. The money emanated from a $15 million settlement Jones received from Paramount. The arbitrator ruled that WME was entitled to 10 percent plus interest. Last Tuesday, WME filed for dismissal with prejudice.
- The law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan is suing RGM Entertainment, looking to confirm an arbitration award of more than $200,000 in owed legal fees. The firm represented the Singapore-based company in setting up a rebook of the 1991 action film Point Break. An arbitrator awarded the money in December after RGM failed to show up.
- Two producers are at war against each other in a new lawsuit over a Food Network pilot show called $24 in 24 Hours. Custom Television Productions is suing Kyra Shelgren in LA Superior Court, alleging the defendant has breached an oral contract and committed conversion by failing to turn over 30 photography releases. The parties appear to be quarreling over issues like compensation and expenses for the show, and the plaintiff is claiming that Shelgren's refusal to turn over releases signed by people appearing on the show, as required by the Food Network, is "tantamount to extortion."