A LEGAL battle is under way between the Oxfordshire family of JRR Tolkien and the Hollywood giant behind the new Hobbit film, it emerged last night.
The heirs of the Tolkien estate, including the author’s daughter Priscilla Tolkien, 80, who lives in Wolvercote, claimed they have not been paid “even one cent” of the millions of pounds owed to them from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
It is believed the three films generated almost $3bn in box office receipts and another $3bn in DVDs and merchandise sales.
But the Tolkien family, and the charity they head, have begun a fight for unpaid profits that will be decided in the Supreme Court of Los Angeles.
The action has sparked fears that the lawsuit could stop the big screen adaptation of The Hobbit in its tracks.
But Miss Tolkien and the other trustees yesterday insisted they were not trying to jeopardise the film.
Steven Maier, a commercial litigation partner with the Oxford law firm Manches, said: “What they are seeking is a declaration from the court New Line Cinema has lost its rights to make those films because of its breach of contract in failing to pay even one cent of the millions of dollars owing to the trusts from the three Lord of the Rings films.
“The trustees are appalled by New Line’s attitude to their legal obligations and are determined to pursue their claims to their rightful conclusion.”
The Tolkien Trust is a registered charity and has made grants to charitable causes totalling moer than $8m over the last five years. The first Lord of the Rings film was released in 2001 and years of legal argument about the share of the profits are set to be heard in court during the coming weeks.
Mr Maier said: “The litigation process is moving swiftly forward with the trial due to commence in Los Angeles on Monday, October 19. It is expected to last for several weeks.”
The plaintiffs include Priscilla Tolkien, a trained social worker, and her brother Christopher, 84, who acts as literary editor for the Tolkien estate.
The action is being taken with publishers HarperCollins.
Tolkien, a professor at Oxford University who died in 1973, received £153,000 from United Artists when he signed over the film rights in 1969. It is understood the case will centre on those terms.
Time Warner, New Line’s parent company, last night declined to comment.
Bonnie Eskenazi, the trustees’ US counsel who originally filed the complaint, earlier said: “New Line has brought new meaning to the phrase ‘creative accounting.’ “It will be certainly interesting to see how on Earth New Line can argue to a jury that these films could gross literally billions of dollars and yet someone entitled to a share of gross receipts gets not a single penny.
“Should this case go all the way through trial, we are confident that New Line will lose its right to release The Hobbit.”
The film is already in pre-production in New Zealand, and is expected to be released at the end of 2011.