Huh? Yes, you heard me right — 20th Century Fox has initiated a legal battle against Warner Bros. over the rights to develop, produce and distribute a film based on the graphic novel Watchmen.
On February 8th, FOX filed a lawsuit against Warners, claiming they’re the ones who hold the exclusive copyrights and contract rights to Watchmen.
Great timing, FOX. Where were you when Zack announced WB’s plans to make this movie at Comic-Con last July? Where were you when shooting started last September?
In my opinion, FOX strategically waited until production was going to wrap so they could catch WB fully vested in the project and have more legal leverage to push WB into a fast lucrative settlement. Either that, or FOX’s myopic legal department couldn’t split their attention between this case and the WGA strike negotiations which were still going on until this past weekend.
Fox claims that between 1986 and 1990, it acquired all movie rights to Watchmen as well as the screenplays penned by Charles McKeown and Sam Hamm. In 1991, FOX assigned some rights to Largo International with the understanding that the studio held exclusive rights to distribute the first motion picture based on Watchmen, according to the lawsuit.
When Largo dismantled, the rights were transferred to producer Lawrence Gordon. Under a “turnaround agreement” between FOX and Gordon, the producer agreed to pay a buy-out price to FOX if he entered into any agreement with another studio or third party to develop or produce Watchmen.
The project then found its way to Universal then Paramount before heading back to WB. Now, FOX claims that neither Gordon nor Warners has paid the buy-out price or advised the studio of any other conditions required under the agreement, including procedures necessary to acquire the rights to Watchmen from FOX.
The suit could force the production to close shop during the last few days of the Vancouver shoot saying in the suit that they wish to “restrain (Warner Bros. Pictures) from taking actions that violate Fox's copyrights and which stand to forever impair Fox's rights to control the distribution and development of this unique work.”
The irony of the situation is Watchmen creator Alan Moore has publicly criticized DC Comics, which is owned by Warners, for him being “swindled” out of the ownership rights to Watchmen back in 1985. I'm sure Mr. Moore is laughing now.
I've reached out to my contacts at WB for a comment, but since the lawsuit seeks unspecified damages, WB’s policy to is to not comment on pending litigation.
2.12.2008 Source: The Hollywood Reporter
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