Still from the 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring film.
Still from the 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring film. ()

O’Melveny & Myers and Arnold & Porter want to disqualify Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger from representing the J.R.R. Tolkien estate and HarperCollins Publishers Ltd. in a suit against two movie studios over digital merchandising rights to the “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”

In a motion filed Monday in Los Angeles federal court, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. (represented by O’Melveny) and The Saul Zaentz Company (represented by Arnold & Porter) claim that Greenberg Glusker is inappropriately representing two former in-house lawyers at United Artists Corporation. The studios claim those two lawyers hammered out the original 1969 film rights agreements, and that Greenberg Glusker has invaded the attorney-client privilege and accessed confidential information. (Warner Bros. and Saul Zaents acquired the movie rights from UA.)

According to the plaintiffs’ motion, Greenberg Glusker “solicited [the two lawyers] to testify as experts on ‘film-related merchandising activity in the late 1960s and early 1970s’ and it offered at no charge to represent both lawyers as percipient witnesses.” The two lawyers accepted the offers to serve as experts, with one entitled to receive $10,000, according to the motion.

The underlying battle over Middle Earth-themed merchandise began in November 2012, when HarperCollins and the Tolkien estate sued Warner Bros. and Zaentz. The plaintiffs claim that the 1969 agreement granted United Artists the right to market “tangible personal property” based on the books. It did not extend, they contend, to electronic or digital rights, which hadn’t then been devised. With the film rights ultimately ending up in the hands of Warner Bros. and Zaentz, the plaintiffs contend in their complaint that the merchandising efforts have extended to unintended products as crass as an online “Lord of the Rings” slot game. One of the plaintiffs lawyers became aware of the online slots after receiving a spam email hawking an online casino, according to the motion.

In Monday’s motion, the studios’ lawyers claim it was inappropriate for Greenberg Glusker to reach out to the “only living percipient witnesses” to the 1969 film rights agreement and offer to represent them for free. The studios accuse Greenberg of positioning UA’s former lawyers to be adverse to the interests of the studios.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., which acquired United Artists, endorsed its rivals’ call to disqualify Greenberg Glusker with this motion filed by Sullivan & Cromwell.

We reached out to Greenberg Glusker’s Bonnie Eskenazi, but have not yet heard back. She told The Hollywood Reporter’s Hollywood, Esq. website that there “is absolutely no basis for the motion filed by WB and Zaentz.” She added: “Greenberg Glusker acted properly in all respects at all times. The motion was filed for purely and transparently tactical and strategic reasons. We look forward to the court vindicating our position.”