Lord of the Rings, that is.
JRR Tolkein, a professor at Oxford University, signed over the film rights to his novels in 1969, four years before his death. The contract included the right to limited tangible merchandising, but those protecting Tolkein’s legacy allege that this did not include video games or other digital services.
The dispute has come to a head because The Tolkein Trust, founded in 1977 by Tolkein’s four children, believes that the use of his characters to promote gambling on websites and slot machines sullies his reputation and goodwill. Litigation is under way in the American courts to decide who has the right to exploit the characters in the books outside the realms of cinema.
Of course the use of digital images on websites and in software is unlikely to have been considered when the contract, or indeed Tolkein’s will, was drafted. How quickly have we come to accept a new world where one’s legacy may include rights which one has never known during one’s lifetime.
Which just goes to show that however much advice you may receive from a lawyer, there is no guarantee your written Will will in fact lead to the outcome you thought was clear.