The estate of author J.R.R Tolkien is suing Warner Bros claiming that the film giant is abusing its right to merchandising linked to "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit."
Filed in Los Angeles weeks before the release of the first "Hobbit" movie, the lawsuit -- a copy of which was obtained by the Hollywood Reporter -- seeks at least $80 million in damages from the studio.
The late British author's lawyers claim Warner has breached the terms of an original agreement which allowed it to make money from the kind of physical merchandising common in the pre-Internet age.
"The original contracting parties ... contemplated a limited grant of the right to sell consumer products of the type regularly merchandised at the time such as figurines, tableware, stationery items, clothing and the like.
"They did not include any grant of exploitations such as electronic or digital rights, rights in media yet to be devised or other intangibles such as rights in services," the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit claims that Warner Bros and other defendants, including New Line Productions Inc, have "with increasing boldness, engaged in a continuing and escalating pattern of usurping rights to which they are not entitled."
The defendants "also have asserted and continue to assert that they have rights relating to a wide variety of goods and services beyond 'articles of tangible personal property,'" the suit reads.
A spokesman for Warner Bros responded to a request for reaction by saying: "No comment at this time."
The lawsuit comes ahead of the world premiere in Wellington next week of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey," the first installment of director Peter Jackson's highly anticipated new Tolkien trilogy.
The first "Hobbit" movie will be released worldwide in December. The second, "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," is due next December, and "The Hobbit: There and Back Again" in July 2014, according to the IMDb movie database.
The "Lord of the Rings" trilogy of movies -- based on Tolkien's epic fantasy novels originally published in the 1950s -- were released in 2001, 2002 and 2003.