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Court: No punitive damages in 'LOTR' suit

  Entertainment  -   POSTED: 2008/09/26 18:14

A judge has barred the estate of "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien from seeking punitive damages against the studio that brought the trilogy to the big screen.

Tolkien's heirs claim New Line Cinema has failed to pay any royalties from the estimated $6 billion they say the movie has grossed worldwide. The lawsuit is seeking more than $150 million in compensatory damages based on breach of contract, fraud and other claims.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Ann I. Jones also ruled this week that the estate and Tolkien heirs have established a legal basis for the fraud claim against New Line.

As part of that allegation, the lawsuit claims New Line sent millions of dollars to Time Warner Inc.'s AOL, improperly claiming they were for advertising expenses. The lawsuit also claims the studio built production offices and facilities in New Zealand and listed them as expenses for the "Lord of the Rings" films, although the heirs claim they are now being used for other New Line projects.

New Line's attorneys successfully argued that Tolkien's heirs had to demonstrate a "public wrong" under New York law — which governs the contracts — to claim punitive damages if they win at trial. Jones ruled that the heirs' grievance "is clearly seeking to vindicate private wrongs."

Tolkien signed agreements in 1969 with United Artists governing the movie rights to the "Lord of the Rings" books as well as "The Hobbit."

After the author's death, his heirs created The Tolkien Trust, a British charity.


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