Legality of Themed Online Slots

November 26, 2012

This week we saw something pretty incredible happen, with the Tolkien Estate (the legal entity responsible for overseeing the boy of work attributed to JR Tolkien), taking action against a slots developer that developed the Lord of the Rings video slot game.

It seems that most of the major slots developers are deeply involved in themed slot development, with major releases such as Iron Man, The Avengers and a whole host of other comic book based video slots being released in the last year or so. Some of these are quite obviously tied in to licensing deals with the likes of DC Comics and other copyright holders, but some definitely walk the edge. For example, look at the popular video slot game Jane Blonde. This is quite obviously inspired by the whole James Bond franchise. It does not take a major jump in logic to consider this to be somewhat infringing upon the copyright originally owned by Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond.

If we start looking further afield, there are a whole host of video slot games that do seem to follow popular themes, but make a subtly change to avoid licensing issues. With the Tolkien Estate setting the precedent, we could see more legal wrangles come to light over some of these blatantly ripped off themed slots.

For us, the most surprising thing is to see so many examples of these borderline infringements contained within the product line-up of some of the major slot developers such as Microgaming, Cryptologic and Net Entertainment. Although the likes of Microgaming do set up licensing deals with franchise owners for slots that are entirely based on themes such as superheroes and other comic book characters, there is also a range of online slot games which obviously follow a known theme, but make this subtle change to avoid copyright issues. It is these video slot games we think might cause legal problems in the light of the action taken by the Tolkien Estate over the development of the Lord of the Rings video slot game.

We believe we will see more of this kind of legal battle in the coming months, and wait to see how some of the major slot developers deal with the issue so that it does not cause problems for us, the online slot players.

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