Breaking News: Judge Says Fox Owns Rights to Watchmen! Updated!
This may have just become the worst Christmas eve in history. The New York Times is reporting tonight that a federal judge in Los Angeles made a decision last Wednesday in favor of 20th Century Fox's claim that it owned the distribution rights to the upcoming Watchmen movie. As we all know, Fox first filed a claim against Warner Brothers in February but it didn't go through until August this year. Initially, the judge said that the issue at hand could only be settled at a trial, which was scheduled for early January. On Wednesday, however, the judge reconsidered and concluded "that Fox should prevail on crucial issues."
Judge Feess said in a ruling that, "Fox owns a copyright interest consisting of, at the very least, the right to distribute the Watchmen motion picture." Don't exactly flip out just yet, however, as this is not the immediate end to this rather ridiculous story. The judge also said that, "the parties may wish to turn their efforts from preparing for trial to negotiating a resolution of this dispute or positioning the case for review." As in, the two studios must figure out an agreement or else file an appeal to his decision. Considering I'm sure Warner Brothers wants to keep things on track for a March 6th, 2009 release, they most likely won't file for an appeal, as I'm sure it wouldn't even be up for review until after that date.
This is as good of time as any to reiterate that Fox is one of the worst studios in Hollywood, with my recent article on Taken being just one example of their stubbornness. I've said it before and I'll say it again, regardless of who literally does own the rights, this movie would never have gotten to the point that it is at without the support of Warner Brothers. Zack Snyder wouldn't have had the chance to make the movie that he did without their support. I hope they can work out some sort of behind-the-scenes deal with Fox, because I do not want to see this movie ruined. Stay tuned for updates on all of this as they arrive!
Update: Entertainment Weekly published an article that provided some extra details surrounding the situation. Contrary to popular belief, although Fox may have won this court ruling, it doesn't mean that much will happen to the film besides Fox getting some money out of it. From the article: "Warner Bros. has been asking Feess to make one more crucial ruling in this case… Now, I am no lawyer, but here's how I might rephrase Warner Bros.' position: 'Let's pretend for a moment that Fox is right in this matter. Judge, could you help us decide a fair price for Fox's rights? Because we can't.' Perhaps all along, Warner Bros. has been gambling/banking that the judge will 'adjudicate' a relatively affordable price for Fox's rights, or at least put a price tag on it that's much lower than the one Fox has been putting on it."
So what does all this mean? We don't know the answer to that question yet, but we're not the only ones worried. "Will Warner Bros. appeal? If it does, Watchmen's release could be held up by months. If Warner Bros. doesn't appeal, what will Fox get in return? A cash payout per Gordon's original contract? A cash payout plus penalties? A share of Watchmen's total revenues? Might Warner Bros. settle the lawsuit by selling or ceding the film to Fox? If Fox got control of Watchmen, would they release Snyder's film in its current 2 hour 30 minute form, or would they order him to (gulp) trim it or (double gulp) make changes?"