Tolkien Estate Sues New Line, The Hobbit Not Yet Threatened

For discussion of the upcoming films based on The Hobbit and related material, as well as previous films based on Tolkien's work
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Holbytla
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Post by Holbytla »

solicitr wrote:In California?

Studios have way too much influence in Sacramento for CA ever to pass legislation reforming the whole sorry business of Hollywood Accounting, much less the AG's office getting involved. Moreover the prospect of prosecutorial involvement would *not* be welcome to the plaintiffs, as then the principal defendants could take the Fifth and dummy up.
Regardless of a studio's influence they must fall under better business laws, and would be separate from any particular civil claims.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Holbytla wrote:Ok I'll ask a few specific questions.
They're good questions.
Tolkien sold the movie rights to LOTR long ago to UA. Obviously when New Line acquired the rights, they were bound to the original contract. Where, if anywhere, are the details of the original contract listed?
That's really the essence of the problem that I have. The contracts should be attached to the Complaint, or at the very least, quoted at length. Instead, they include these brief, self-serving statements about what these complicated contracts say. I find that very suspicious. Obviously, the various parties have copies of the contracts, but I am not aware of any place where they are publicly available.
What are the statute of limitations of a breach of contract suit? Seems this is kind of long in the tooth no? Certainly the Tolkien Estate made a discovery of not getting their money and the clock must have started ticking a while ago.
Under California law, the statute of limitations for breach of a written contract is four years. However, the contract apparently specifies that New York law applies, and a quick google search reveals that the SOL for breach of contracts in New York is six years. Plus, if there really has been settlement negotiations going on, the plaintiffs could argue that the statute of limitations has been "tolled" during the time that has been happening.
Can it be construed the the Estate is using this late filing date to their advantage, and is putting New Line in an unfair disadvantage? The timing of this is failrly suspect.
I agree that the timing is suspect. But what we don't know is to what extent either side has been negotiating in good faith. It could be that the plaintiff have truly been trying to resolve this, couldn't get it done, and had to file because the statute of limitations was going to run.
The movie rights to the Hobbit are different than those from LOTR. Where, if anywhere, are the details of the this contract listed?
My understanding (soli will correct me if I am wrong) is that they were sold together in the same contracts.
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Post by solicitr »

That's correct. It appears that originally there was going to be a single contract covering both Tolkien and his publishers, but they wound up dividing it into two interlocked agreements. Both covered all four books (except there is something odd going on WRT The Two Towers).

And so far, Holby, the contracts are not publicly available. Perhaps New Line will include them, or pertinent excerpts, with its Response.


BTW, Vor, the SoL angle is probably spot-on. Since FR was released in December 2001, the Estate probably received its first "Balance due: Zilch" statement in February or March the following year- just about six years ago.
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Post by solicitr »

You know, Vor, it occurs to me that we've been complete dummies on the question of the rights and who gets them if New Line loses them: Zaentz and United Artists aren't named as defendants.

Basic Civil Procedure 101- no civil judgment can dispose of the interests of persons not party to the suit. If Zaentz and UA aren't defendants, the court simply does not have the power to take anything away from them at all. UA never sold the Hobbit distribution rights, and Zaentz 'never sold' his reversionary interest in the rights when NL's license expires.


Although I suppose in theory the Estate could try to hold Zaentz to primary responsibility for seeing to it they got paid, they have made no such claim.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

In fact, as you pointed out earlier (I think here, but I'm too lazy to check if it was here, or TORC, or TORN, or the MythSoc), they seemed to have gone out of their way to make clear that they have no interest in hurting "third parties".
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Post by solicitr »

It's been over 30 days since the Complaint was filed.... no word of an Answer or Motion to Dismiss?
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Post by Primula Baggins »

In the past week or so I have seen the films discussed as a done deal, something that is going to happen, on several commercial entertainment-related sites. Obviously there's been no announcement, but the gossip at least doesn't demonstrate much concern that this will be unsolveable.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

solicitr wrote:It's been over 30 days since the Complaint was filed.... no word of an Answer or Motion to Dismiss?
More importantly, it's been more than 30 days since Proof of Service of the Summons and Complaint was filed (on 2/14). There is no Answer on file, nor is there any hearing date listed for a Demurrer (yes, we still call them Demurrers in California). But it is not unusual for an extension of time to file responsive pleadings to be requested and granted, so I'm sure that is the case here, since there is also no Default on file, either.
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Post by kams »

translation for the unwashed masses? :(
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Nothing has happened. :)
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Post by Primula Baggins »

But things still might happen—it isn't over, just delayed. Is that right?
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
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Post by solicitr »

Oh, yes. These things can drag on for years.
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Post by Primula Baggins »

Although there are good rea$on$ for both sides to want it to be settled sooner than that.
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Post by Alatar »

More to the point, as long as its dragging on, the rights to The Hobbit are still available, right? Only if TE succeeds will the rights revert to them, so there's nothing right now to stop The Hobbit being made. Have I got that right?
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Post by solicitr »

Not exactly. So long as there is a risk of the plug being pulled, it will be difficult if not impossible for Time-Warner to get financing, nor would they want to risk much $$$ of their own.

T-W's best move, if they can't reach a settlement fairly quickly, might be to sell the whole deal to MGM/UA, who wouldn't have the sword of Damocles hanging over their head.

Also there is a clock ticking: if production hasn't started by the end of 2008 Warners lose the rights back to Saul Zaentz anyway.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Sorry to engage in lawyer-speak. It does tend to come naturally. Let me clarify. Under California law, a defendant in a civil action has 30 days from the date they are "served" with a Summons and Complaint to file a responsive pleading, which usually would be an Answer to the Complaint, or a Demurrer to the Complaint. Generally, the Answer just denies everything that the Complaint says, and asserts a series of what is called Affirmative Defenses, which are additional reasons why they should not be held liable (and usually are mostly bogus). A Demurrer is essentially a motion to dismiss the action (or some parts of the action, on the argument that even if everything that the Complaint states is true, the plaintiff still can't prevail on some or all of the causes of action asserted in the Complaint.

If the defendant does not file some kind of responsive pleading within 30 days, than the plaintiff can file a "Default" and then move to get a "Default Judgment". However, the parties can agree to extend the time to file a responsive pleading up to 15 days (and in practice, for longer than that). It is generally common courtesy for a plaintiff's attorney to grant a request for such an extension of time, so it is likely that is doesn't mean anything. However, it is possible that it is an indication that there are serious settlement negotiations going on. If more than 15 days passes and no responsive pleading has been filed, it is good bet that that is the case.

I hope that helps.
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Post by Primula Baggins »

That helps very much—thanks, Voronwë!
“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
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Post by kams »

:bow:
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Post by Holbytla »

Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:Sorry to engage in lawyer-speak. It does tend to come naturally. Let me clarify. Under California law, a defendant in a civil action has 30 days from the date they are "served" with a Summons and Complaint to file a responsive pleading, which usually would be an Answer to the Complaint, or a Demurrer to the Complaint. Generally, the Answer just denies everything that the Complaint says, and asserts a series of what is called Affirmative Defenses, which are additional reasons why they should not be held liable (and usually are mostly bogus). A Demurrer is essentially a motion to dismiss the action (or some parts of the action, on the argument that even if everything that the Complaint states is true, the plaintiff still can't prevail on some or all of the causes of action asserted in the Complaint.

If the defendant does not file some kind of responsive pleading within 30 days, than the plaintiff can file a "Default" and then move to get a "Default Judgment". However, the parties can agree to extend the time to file a responsive pleading up to 15 days (and in practice, for longer than that). It is generally common courtesy for a plaintiff's attorney to grant a request for such an extension of time, so it is likely that is doesn't mean anything. However, it is possible that it is an indication that there are serious settlement negotiations going on. If more than 15 days passes and no responsive pleading has been filed, it is good bet that that is the case.

I hope that helps.
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Post by Voronwë the Faithful »

Still no answer or other responsive pleadings listed, nor any hearing dates.
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