The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in Los Angeles, comes a week before the premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey in Wellington, New Zealand. The opening film in the trilogy hits world cinemas next month.
The Tolkien estate is upset at what it calls “morally questionable” digital marketing including an online slot machine, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Hollywood Reporter.
The Tolkien estate is seeking $80m (€62m) from Warner Bros, its New Line subsidiary and rights holder Saul Zaentz Co.
Warner Bros declined to comment on the claims.
Tolkien’s family says a merchandising agreement extends only to tangible products such as figurines and clothing and not to electronic rights.
“Not only does the production of gambling games patently exceed the scope of defendants’ rights, but this infringing conduct has outraged Tolkien’s devoted fan base, causing irreparable harm to Tolkien’s legacy and reputation and the valuable goodwill generated by his works,” the family claims in the lawsuit.
Tolkien’s heirs settled a lawsuit over The Lord Of The Rings films for an undisclosed amount in 2009.
That suit against New Line Cinema claimed Tolkien’s trust received only an upfront payment of $62,500 for the three films, but was due 7.5% of the gross receipts.
The Rings films earned $6bn from film tickets, DVDs, and merchandise.