The battle for Middle
Earth may be over, but it seems that the battle for its revenue may never end. The trust that manages the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien and HarperCollins, the Lord of the Rings
publisher, is waging war against New Line Cinema, the distributor of the films, claiming $150 million dollars in damages. According to the complaint, New Line has failed to pay the Tolkien heirs
anything from the revenues they have received since purchasing the rights from Miramax Films.
One of the problems with the lawsuit, according to Ezra Doner, a senior entertainment counsel
at Herrick, Feinstein LLP and the former head of business affairs for Miramax, is that the contract was created in 1969, long before DVDs, the Internet and even cable television. The documents are not
only "dusty," as Doner calls them, but they also seem to be missing, which, according to Doner, is probably not an accident.
The case has been presented as a fundamental fight between good
and evil: "It's what I call a public relations complaint," says Doner. "It was conceived and written to maximize publicity for the action. And on that score, I would say the Tolkien heirs and
HarperCollins have succeeded." (Who would choose a multi-billion dollar corporation over a book publisher and the family of a beloved dead writer?) While Tolkien may have convinced us that good will
triumph over evil, this is the court of law we're talking about, and, as Doner points out, "convincing a judge is another matter."