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Actors sue New Line over `Rings' payments

June 06, 2007|Robert W. Welkos | Times Staff Writer

Fifteen New Zealand-based actors have filed suit against New Line Cinema, claiming the company that released Peter Jackson's blockbuster movie trilogy "The Lord of the Rings" hasn't reported net profit on the sale of the movies' merchandise such as video games, lunchboxes and T-shirts.

The actors, who appear in one or more of the films, play various characters, including orcs, who inhabit author J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth.

The suit alleges that the actors signed agreements with New Line that were supposed to give them 5% of the net revenue from the sale of merchandise, but that those earnings vanished after the company deducted a 50% distribution fee along with other expenses.

"There is no place in the contract that says New Line has the right to subtract a 50% distribution fee," Los Angeles attorney Henry Gradstein said. "As New Line calculates the numbers, it will never reach the break-even point with my clients." He estimated that the sale of "Lord of the Rings" merchandise had already totaled $100 million.

Gradstein noted that his clients were to receive 5% of the net merchandising revenue split among the actors whose characters are portrayed on the goods.

The lawsuit noted, for example, that merchandise associated with actor Paul Norell's character (King of the Dead), had generated nearly $22 million in sales. But when all the expenses are deducted, it "will always result in no net merchandising revenue being payable to Norell."

The other plaintiffs are Noel Appleby, Jed Brophy, Mark Ferguson, Ray Henwood, Bruce Hopkins, William Johnson, Nathaniel Lees, Sarah McLeod, Ian Mune, Craig Parker, Robert Pollock, Martyn Sanderson, Peter Tait and Stephan Ure.

A New Line spokesman said the company did not comment on pending litigation.

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