Home News Legal Matters Judge allows WATCHMEN lawsuit to go on

Judge allows WATCHMEN lawsuit to go on


No, not a lawsuit by Alan Moore…rather it’s a battle of studio titans, as Fox has been suing Warners saying they control the rights to the “greatest graphic novel of all times.”:

At the heart of Fox’s suit, filed in February, is the contention that it never ceded rights to the property. And according to the federal Judge Gary Allen Feess, Fox retained distribution rights to the graphic novel penned by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons through a 1991 claim. Furthermore, Feess appears to agree that under a 1994 turnaround deal with producer Larry Gordon, Gordon acquired an option to acquire Fox’s remaining interest in “Watchmen,” which was never exercised, thereby leaving Fox with its rights under the 1994 agreement.

“It is our company’s policy not to comment on pending litigation and thus will not comment on the specifics of this case,” Warners said in statement. “That said, the court’s ruling simply means that the parties will engage in discovery and proceed with the litigation. The judge did not opine at all on the merits other than to conclude that Fox satisfied the pleading requirements. We respectfully disagree with Fox’s position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.”

Yesterday’s ruling was simply a refusal by a judge not to dismiss Fox’s claim, not a decision either way. However, Fox seems to smell blood…or money

Surprisingly, Fox said it would rather see the film killed instead of collecting a percentage of the box office.

“When you have copyright infringement, there are some damages you never recover,” said a source close to the litigation.

Oh boo hoo hoo! As commenters at an excellent Nikki Finke round-up of the story point out, Fox seemed perfectly happy to let Paramount make the movie a few years back, until Par pulled the plug on the Paul Greengrass version at the very last minute. Or could it be, as one commenter comments:

Studios will wait gladly years for a chance to screw another studio over in this way when they have them contractually by the balls.

The judge’s refusal to dismiss the suit is a big blow to Warner, especially after a somewhat similar suit saw them pony up some $17.5 million just to allow the DUKES OF HAZZARD movie to be released:

But before reaching the screen, the movie was tied up as a group of people who held rights related to the “Hazzard” TV show sued Warner Bros., the studio making the film. Last month, in an out-of-court settlement, the studio paid them $17.5 million, according to people familiar with the situation. It is believed to be the largest sum ever to arise out of a case involving movie rights for a TV show. It amounts to about one-third of the film’s original budget. Mr. Toberoff, who usually takes his cases on a contingency-fee basis, declined to say how much he made from the “Hazzard” case. Warner Bros. declined to comment on any aspect of separated-rights issues.

A similar settlement — which is most probably what will still Fox’s weeping over copyright infringement — would put a big crimp in WATCHMEN’s bottom line. But it will still make more on DVD than the DUKES OF HAZZARD.


  1. When I heard about this, I expected the average fan reaction to ignore any questions of legality and simply paint Fox as the mustache-twirling villain out to deny the world its rightful Watchmen movie.

    Didn’t expect that from the actual reporting on it, though.

  2. Alan Moore reclines back in his seat, has a sip of his tea, breathes a sigh that seems to say “Who needs greed, I’d rather avoid it all, makes my life much less complicated.”

    Even the the most jaded comic readers who were bitching about Moore’s Watchmen responses are now pry admitting, “well… I guess he wasn’t just being a crotchety old coot.”

  3. Who Watches the Watchmen?

    What happens if Fox wins? Do they gain the right to distribute the film? And in which markets? Can Warner/DC release the movie direct to video?

  4. ((not that I meant Moore woulda really been involved in the suit, but that he had the foresight to avoid the heartbreak))

    @Michael “When I heard about this, I expected the average fan reaction to ignore any questions of legality and simply paint Fox as the mustache-twirling villain out to deny the world its rightful Watchmen movie.”

    Regardless, the movie has been in development far long enough that if this was a case of Fox being a “complete innocent”, they could have halted production before it “hurt” the team of artists (actors and director and designers, as well as Gibbons) get [not completely] screwed by this potentially not getting released. Instead Fox waits till its a completed product, sees all the unexpected hype the movie is generating, and THEN decides to try to stop its release.

    If a rights case in the entertainment world only becomes “worth it” when the property becomes this [potenially] huge, to me (who is not in the industry nor a lawyer) it reeks of the case itself not being completely legit. In another words, Fox had to wait it out to gauge whether the risk would be worth it, that itself possibly hints at the case itself being one of straw (of course maybe they are in the right, and just initially didn’t care, you could argue).

    But at the end of the day the general audience (me for ex.), doesn’t care whether Fox is in the right or not (at this early juncture, I mean) , we’re just reacting how completely shady a move this is by Fox, for waiting so effing long to stop production. And I think thats fair for now.

  5. ….then again (from blog@newsarama)

    The judge said “It is particularly noteworthy that nothing on the face of the complaint or the documents supplied to the Court establishes that Gordon, the claimed source of Warner Brothers’ interest in ‘Watchmen,’ ever acquired any rights in ‘Watchmen.’”

    Pretty damning…is it actually possible they just assumed that since they owned the comic that they owned the rights to the movie, and didn’t check? That seems mind bogglingly irresponsible.

  6. ejulp, that would make sense if Fox had filed suit just yesterday. But they didn’t. But they didn’t. The case has been going on for six months.

    I don’t claim to know who’s right and who’s wrong. But ignoring that question and making a snap decision based on how much one wants to see the movie is, well, as silly as judging the Siegels’ case against DC by how much one wants Superman comics to continue uninterrupted.

  7. IMO (hear that people – In My Opinion)

    It doesn’t speak well of Warners that they didn’t completely vet the project in the first place.

    You don’t invest millions in a project where you have the chance of it taken away!!! What were they thinking?

    Fox did the right in letting Warners go ahead and spend the millions, put themselves in a REALLY VULNERABLE position then pounced. You absolutely expect this from studios because that’s what the tiger does…

    And Warners was stupid enough to run around with a pair of beefsteak underwear on yelling “Here kittty, kitty kitty…”

  8. @Michael, yeah you’re right…but still, I said “at this early juncture.” The Sups case has been going on a while, and people should be better informed by now, a snap judgment in that case is unreasonable. I just meant you shouldn’t come down that negative on people when something is so “fresh.”

    Kind of a pointless argument on my part, since, yeah, ideally you are right.

  9. I’ve never heard of a movie studio owning the rights to a property for this long. Usually they get the rights for a few years, and if they don’t exercise them, they revert back to the original owners. Which in this case would either be the creators or DC comics.

  10. With due respect to Fox – as the company who has paid me the most in terms of salary of all the studios I’ve been employed with- but they’re being complete A-holes about this.

    If they had managed to get off their duffs and actually make the movie – it would probably have been disasterous as LoEG and From Hell turned out.

    I think WB somewhat better understands the product than any other studio would.



  11. I just love the dignified squabbling of studios over something that neither actually AUTHORED, while the author continues to answer every interviewer with “I think it’s an abomination of excess, and no, I don’t want their money.”

  12. “I’ve never heard of a movie studio owning the rights to a property for this long. Usually they get the rights for a few years, and if they don’t exercise them, they revert back to the original owners. Which in this case would either be the creators or DC comics.”

    It all depends on the terms of the deal. Saul Zaentz, for example, has owned the movie rights to The Lord Of The Rings since the early 1970’s.

  13. Clearly no love lost between Fox and Warner. So – although it’s horrendously complex – this renewed agression means that the “Batman” TV series is never going to be released, is it?

    Why can’t the two studios come to a dual agreement to split profits and costs on BOTH “Watchmen” and the Adam West series…? Everyone wins, surely.

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