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Tolkien trust sues studio over 'Rings'

It accuses New Line of cheating it out of at least $150 million from the blockbuster trilogy.

February 12, 2008|Thomas S. Mulligan | Times Staff Writer

The charitable trust of "Lord of the Rings" creator J.R.R. Tolkien sued New Line Cinema Corp. on Monday for allegedly cheating it out of at least $150 million from the blockbuster movie trilogy based on the late British author's fantasy sagas.

The London-based Tolkien Trust said in its complaint, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, that under a 1969 contract with the studio that held the original rights to the work, the trust and other plaintiffs were entitled to 7.5% of gross receipts, "less certain expenses," from the films and related products. According to the suit, worldwide grosses from the trilogy have reached nearly $6 billion.

The studio declined comment Monday, spokesman Robert Pini said, citing a New Line policy against discussing "matters in litigation."

Bonnie Eskenazi, a Los Angeles lawyer representing the Tolkien Trust and co-plaintiff HarperCollins publishers, said the studio's position was that it owed nothing.

"To take the position that a gross participant in a film of that magnitude gets not one penny strikes me as bizarre," said Eskenazi, a partner in the entertainment law firm of Bert Fields.

New Zealander Peter Jackson, who directed the mega-hit series, was embroiled in his own lengthy lawsuit against New Line, but the parties settled in December, clearing the way for Jackson to be co-executive producer of "The Hobbit." "Hobbit" will be adapted from Tolkien's novel of the same title, which preceded the "Rings" trilogy.

In addition to $150 million in compensatory damages and unspecified punitive damages, the trust seeks to terminate New Line's rights, which would bring "The Hobbit" to a halt.

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thomas.mulligan@latimes.com

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