This week, Rich Johnston broke the story that part of the reason for the Fox lawsuit against the Warner WATCHMEN may be a rights swap of sorts:
Sources tell me that Fox want the 1960s Batman TV series. Currently Fox own the TV footage, but Warner Bros own the characters and trademarks, via their ownership of DC Comics. The rights to a DVD release have been held up for a long time now, and this case looks like it may be the instrument to release them.
Oh, Fox will get a wodge of cash as well – many millions of dollars it seems. But it seems they also want the rights to release the Adam West-starring Batman on DVD, something long denied fans of the series. And Warners will get the “Watchmen” film, to release as planned.
This kind of rights swap is not unheard of in studio history. For instance, Universal once swapped the rights to Oswald the Rabbit for sportscaster Al Michaels. However, this deal is not so simple.
TVShowsOnDVD explains that the rights to those long lost Batman TV episodes are tied up in more rights than you could possibly imagine:
Why? Because, as CBR notes, Fox owns the footage. That footage is theirs to release in any manner they see fit…as long as they obey all contractual language involving licenses, royalties and residuals. For the big-screen film which was in theaters in the ’60s, shortly after the first season (and which recently came out on Blu-ray), there had been language in the contracts that covered release of the footage in places other than a theater (on an airplane flight, for example). Language which could cover the home video releases that came along ages later…something that wasn’t imagined in the late ’60s! But for the television episodes, there was no such language in the contracts about showing the footage anywhere else besides on television. So Fox can’t show it anywhere else, such as on a DVD, because they don’t have any rights to do so. The contracts did have language, though, to cover licensing small clips out to other productions (which is why some short footage can show up on DVDs like Holy Batmania!, but not entire episodes).
Also, because the show had so many cameos based on other pop culture sensations of the time, the rights are incredibly convoluted.
Wow, this just gets juicier and juicier.
*Yes, yes, we know that is the most trite and hackneyed post title ever…but it just felt…right.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.