LOS ANGELES – The estate of "Lord of the Rings" creator J.R.R. Tolkien is suing the film studio that released the trilogy based on his books, claiming the company failed to pay a cut of gross profits for the blockbuster films.
The writer's estate, a British charity dubbed The Tolkien Trust, and original "Lord of the Rings" publisher HarperCollins filed the lawsuit against New Line Cinema on Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The lawsuit claims New Line was required to pay 7.5 percent of gross receipts from the films to Tolkien's estate and the other plaintiffs. A call to a spokesman for New Line, a unit of Time Warner Inc., was not immediately returned.
The films — 2001's "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring," 2002's "The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," and 2003's "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" — have reaped nearly $6 billion combined worldwide, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs seek more than $150 million in compensatory damages, unspecified punitive damages and a court order giving the Tolkien estate the right to terminate any rights New Line may have to make films based on other works by the author, including "The Hobbit."
Such an order would scuttle plans New Line has in the works to make a two-film prequel based on "The Hobbit."
"Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson has already signed on to serve as executive producer on the project, which is tentatively slated to begin production next year, with releases planned for 2010 and 2011.
"The Tolkien trustees do not file lawsuits lightly, and have tried unsuccessfully to resolve their claims out of court," Steven Maier, an attorney for the Tolkien estate based in Britain, said in a statement. "New Line has not paid the plaintiffs even one penny of its contractual share of gross receipts despite the billions of dollars of gross revenue generated by these wildly successful motion pictures."
Maier also claims the film studio has blocked the Tolkien estate and the other plaintiffs from auditing the receipts of the last two films.