Warner Bros' Watchmen in Serious Legal Trouble!

August 18, 2008
Source: Deadline Hollywood


Back in February we posted an article titled Fox Suing Warner Brothers Over Watchmen Movie that outlined a legal case that 20th Century Fox was fighting against Warner Brothers for the rights to the Watchmen movie. At the time it didn't create too much buzz because back in February, I was one of the only ones who had visited the set and knew what we'd be seeing in that amazing teaser trailer later on. However, Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood has an update today and it's not good, not good at all. "A federal judge has denied a Warner Bros motion to dismiss 20th Century Fox's legal battle over the rights to develop, produce and distribute a film based on the graphic novel Watchmen." Apparently WB is in some serious legal trouble if this doesn't get straighted out, but details are a bit hazy at the moment.

Finke says that a 20th Century Fox rep told her that U.S. District Court Judge Gary Allen Feess refused to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Fox. The legal details of this whole case are a bit complicated, so we'll do our best to simplify them. Fox claims that between 1986 and 1990, they acquired all movie rights to the 12-issue DC Comics series and screenplays by Charles McKeown and Sam Hamm. However, in 1991, they sold some rights to Largo International with the understanding that they still held exclusive rights to distribute the first movie. Largo shut down sometime around 1994 and the rights were thus transfered to producer Lawrence Gordon. Fox claims that under a separate agreement between Fox and Gordon, he would pay a "buy-out price" to Fox if he was contracted by another studio to develop Watchmen. And now the movie is being made and they claim they never got their buy-out amount and should be involved.

And here's what the judge had to say on the situation. "In essence, the Judge appears to conclude that Fox retained distribution rights in Watchmen through the 1991 Largo quit claim, and he concludes that, under the 1994 turnaround, producer Larry Gordon acquired an option to acquire Fox's remaining interest in Watchmen that was never exercised, thereby leaving Fox with its rights under the 1994 agreement." Apparently the court is still contemplating Fox's motion for an injunction, which means that if they get it, Warner Bros will essentially be forced to give up all rights to Fox and they'll in turn to distribute the movie. The Fox rep also adds that "while the Judge's opinion is preliminary and his views could change in the course of the litigation, his current take on the facts is consistent with our position."

Are you fucking kidding me? If this happens and Fox does end up with the rights, I will be the first to boycott the movie. I love Zack Snyder, but Fox needs to know when to step back and stop whining. They had over 20 years to make the Watchmen movie and didn't and I'm sorry that the smarter guys ended up figuring out how to make it successfully. Everything Warner Brothers has done for this movie so far has been wonderful and they deserve to market and distribute the movie, hands down. I'm trying not to get too enraged by this news, because we're waiting for more developments and details, but I just can't help it. I expect Warner Brothers to pay some high price for Fox to step down, but we'll never hear about that publicly and I hope we don't feel the effects of it (in a marketing budget that gets cut, etc). I truly wish Warner Bros' legal department the best of luck. Stay tuned for more updates!

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Seriously, do you work for Warner Bros or something Alex?

Daas on Aug 18, 2008


Daas, Seriously, does your question really fucking matter? Fucking dork. Its a shame Fox is getting involved on this... this is probably gonna cause so many damn problems for the movie. I was so looking forward to watching it but now the quality may suffer...

Realistic on Aug 18, 2008


You're going to boycott the movie? Really? A fanboy like yourself is going to boycott Watchmen because Fox wants some money? I hope this goes through and you don't go see the movie...

Nick on Aug 18, 2008


Nick.... suck a dick.

Realistic on Aug 18, 2008


No shit, hey? Being unhappy about Fox winning, that would be one thing, maybe even understandable. But boycotting a movie you were riding the dick of for the past several months? Sounds a little over the top.

Tom on Aug 18, 2008


I'll still go see it, I mean it looks really good/

Bryan on Aug 18, 2008


Look, is it low and stupid of Fox, probably, yeah. But this stuff happens in Hollywood, and when stuff isn't handled legally, a lot of money can get involved, so why should Fox just bow out gracefully if they haven't done anything wrong? If they believe that they have the legal right for some of the profits, and paid for them, and never received compensation for that money, then they have the right to seek legal recourse. If anyone here seems to be at fault, it's Lawrence Gordon. If what Fox says is true, he should have known better as a producer. I'm sure this concept isn't so groundbreaking that it has never happened before. Hell, I'm sure WB has done this sort of thing at some point as well. Seems to me that WB gets housed one minute for pushing back Harry Potter, and then coddled for being potentially negligent the next. Just saying. It's not Fox's fault if they have a legitimate legal claim. If they do, it's the fault of Gordon for not doing something about it in 94, and Warner Bros' for not checking to make sure this would be a problem. If Fox is lying, then they are just trying to scam WB, but I get the feeling that if they were scamming, things wouldn't have gotten this far.

Ryan on Aug 18, 2008


I'll still see the movie and all, but I'm going to be pretty pissed that the deserving people aren't getting the money and credit

Chris W. (Co. Springs...) on Aug 18, 2008


The movie is already so far along Fox intervening would be a very punk ass move on their part.

Itri on Aug 18, 2008


Hopefully, if Fox does gets the rights,then they won't tamper with it anymore.

Ajax on Aug 18, 2008


Ha, Fox could get a free movie. Looks like WB didn't do thier homework, and I have a feeling this will be the last of Laurance Gordon if Fox does get the movie. S

Jesse on Aug 18, 2008


20th Century Fox: America's whiny little bitch since 1933.

Andrew on Aug 18, 2008


Fox has Warner Bros. over a barrel. Fox can set any price they choose and if Warner Bros. doesn't pay them, they may get all distribution rights anyway. This was a beautiful legal move by Fox's legal team. They didn't take legal action when the director was announced and the film officially moved forward. They didn't take legal action when the cast was announced. They didn't take legal action when the film was wrapped. Fox waited like a snake in the grass for the first teaser trailer to be released (to see what Warner Bros and Snyder had created), which generated all of that positive word-of-mouth and interest and then dropped the sledgehammer. With the release of that trailer (and that glorious footage), Fox's asking or buy-out price increased by a factor 5 to 8. It not Fox's fault for not making sure all of the legal issues were completely taken care of before Watchmen began production, it's Warner Bros. Their sloppy legal investigation left this loophole wide open for Fox to walk through. As business men who are responsible for the well-being of their shareholders, Fox would have been negligent if they hadn't acted. It was callus of them but potentially very profitable and guess what? They didn't have to spend one dime producing the movie. All they have to pay are their nominal legal fees. Fox now knows this movie is going to be huge and that it will generate hundreds of millions of dollars both in the theater and on DVD. Legally, under the 1994 agreement, they still own a piece and they are within their rights to have it. And you're right. There probably will be a nondisclosure agreement signed and the public will never know how much Warner pays Fox. But like I said, with the advent of that trailer, the price has gone up. Fox could ask for $60 Million and receive it. Warner Bros. has a blockbuster on their hands and everyone knows it. Fox may also get some of the rights to the animated adaptation of the comic Tales of the Black Freighter within Watchmen that stars Gerard Butler. @ Alex. You're not boycotting Watchmen. You'll be seeing that movie in screenings weeks before any of us do just like before. You are too curious to see the finished product. You know I'm right. Emotion is just getting in the way right now. That, you're affection for Snyder and Watchmen movie he has created. You should relax. Snyder's Watchmen will get released one way or another.

Film-Book dot Com on Aug 18, 2008


I man ... who cares?! As long as the release date does not move, I don't care whose logo shows up at the beginning of the movie.

WaterFunk on Aug 18, 2008


I don't get this irrational vitriol aimed at 20th Century Fox. They owned the rights to a property and now they want to be compensated, it's that simple. If people want to place blame they should be looking at Lawrence Gordon, along with any and all office nitwits at Warner Bros. Fox owned the film rights; just because they weren't using them doesn't mean Warner Bros. can just decide to use them instead. Going forward I'm thinking that movie studios are going to be more careful about securing rights to properties they want to produce.

Dave Lister, J.M.C. on Aug 18, 2008


This is karma for pushing back Harry Potter. 🙂

Heather on Aug 18, 2008


Yeah sounds like WB didn't dot the i's and cross the t's on this one. I have to say its their own fault. I don't know why you guys are defending WB on this, sure Fox could have said something earlier but that's not the point. If you owned a house in the Bahamas and just kept it there to let it earn equity and wanted to go there someday, checked in and saw that a mall was being built on top of it, wtf would you do?

Richard on Aug 18, 2008


Look, you guys just don't get it... Obviously I haven't read all the fine print, but it's not as if Fox just sat waiting ready to pounce and it's not like Warner brothers forgot to do legal checks. Fox is pulling the bullshit movie by finding the tiniest "wait we own the rights" loophole and it's an asshole move! Obviously it's all about money and this happens all the time in Hollywood, but my dislike for Fox and love for Warner Brothers only fuels my hatred in the same direction on this one.

Alex Billington on Aug 18, 2008


Ultimately, if Fox tampers with the film's release date or quality, then it will prove to be an unpopular move.

dezdigi on Aug 18, 2008


I'm not sure how to feel about this. I mean, I guess I could say Warner deserves this for messing with Spike Jonze's WTWTA, but then again I'm not sure how good or reliable Fox's marketing department is. Hope that if Fox ends up with it they won't butcher it down to a PG-13 or something of the like. You gotta admit tho, it's a pretty damn a-holey move on Fox's part to pull the rug from under WB's feet.

Alfredo on Aug 18, 2008


Sony pays Warner $600,000,000 to drop support of HD DVD so that Blu-Ray can win the format war. Warner, in turn, screws all the HD DVD format owners without hesitation just after Christmas (even though they publicly stated they would not be changing their dual-format stance just a month earlier). WB turns a blind eye to the near-million HD DVD owners in the US, offering no exchange program for their HD discs on the format that they single-handedly destroyed. 20th Century Fox (always the overpriced, greedy, piracy-paranoid studio), swoops in on Watchmen in an attempt to squeeze some of this extorted, video-blood money from the WB! Karma...'aint it a bitch!

BobbyB on Aug 18, 2008


Alex, i don't think you really dislike Fox. You're just pissed because they could potentially screw up the chance to see more teaser trailers. Really, i don't know why you are getting so worked up over this. Fox isn't going to tamper with a damn thing! They aren't going to mess with a surefire hit. Sure they might not have the same marketing strategy as WB, but that really isn't going to stop the fanboys from seeing it.

BRBomber on Aug 18, 2008


Damn It, Fox seems to wanna fuck everything up the ass...

Merc on Aug 18, 2008


How is owning the rights either fine print or a loophole? It can't be a loophole if it's the whole point. If they own the rights, that's not a minor thing like merchandising for underwear or owning the names and likenesses of a single character. That's a loophole. This is a valid legal motion.

Ryan on Aug 18, 2008


No, that's not the point. They DON'T own the rights Ryan... Go here: http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/urgent-warners-watchmen-in-legal-peril/ They have all the details explaining the situation and a timeline of everything... It's very complicated which is why it's being fought in court right now... If they "owned the rights" Fox would be making it all along. Go look at that site above, it explains the situation clearly.

Alex Billington on Aug 18, 2008


"Warner, in turn, screws all the HD DVD format owners" Fucking Blu-Ray... you wouldn't think having both new formats would be a problem, would you?. In the end, it really doesn't matter if either Fox or Warner distribute it... the film will be the same, I'm not worried. However yes, the marketing hinderance might annoy some.

Rai on Aug 18, 2008


I see what you are saying Alex, I apologize for oversimplifying. But if the article you linked above is correct, then Fox is arguing that the necessary buy-out option pursuant to the quitclaim agreement that Gordon inherited from Largo WASN'T PAID, then they never willingly gave away distribution rights and therefore still have the rights to distribute the film. Assuming that when WB entered the quitclaim with Gordon they assumed that he had paid off Fox, then Gordon either lied to WB or presumed Fox forgot that per the 1994 Settlement and Release agreement, where Gordon could not shop the project until Fox was bought out of their shares, which by the 1991 Largo agreement pertained to distribution rights. So, if Gordon didn't pay Fox, then Fox still, from a legal standpoint retains the rights of distribution. If that's the case, then WB got jobbed and has my sympathy. But I assume the court's will let us know what has happened.

Ryan on Aug 18, 2008


I dislike Fox as well but for other reasons. One of them being their tendency to kill successeful franchises by setting a PG 13 rating, another being the way they release their DvDs and now recently Blu Rays. However, they are absolutely right about this whole thing with Watchmen distributing rights. I would do exacly the same if I was an exec at Fox. Besides WB has done stuff like that as well so whats up with the big bad FOX ? Alex please, you will be there on the first screening for watchmen no matter who will distribute it and no matter how much cash switch place. #21 That is just a rumor withot any substantial proof. BTW can some admin please ban #2 #4. The comment section is down the toilet already with all the name calling as it is.

Shige on Aug 18, 2008


You nailed it that time Ryan! 🙂 That's exactly the situation as far as I can tell... And I've heard Gordon is in a bit of trouble too if he didn't do his part... Either way, that's why I'm sympathetic towards WB on top of the fact that WB is a vastly better studio than Fox and would take care and support the film much more than Fox ever would. I mean, they just brushed off the whole graphic novel for 20 years already, it's obvious they don't care about it...

Alex Billington on Aug 18, 2008


Glad we're on the same page, Alex. Except I'm still not quite sure where Fox is at fault. Other than maybe waiting to get their own back for Gordon and WB making this project against a pre-existing contract.

Ryan on Aug 18, 2008


O.K. Alex... so Fox didn't own production rights, that much is clearly stated in the link you supplied. However, they do still hold distribution rights. I agree that the situation just plain sucks; but this is the type of legalese foolish language that pervades in the real world. Nobody really has to like what Fox is doing; but the fact that they hold rights seems to be proveable in court. Hopefully this all gets settled in time to keep the planned release intact.

Dave Lister, J.M.C. on Aug 18, 2008


Alex both WB and Fox suck.

Jojo on Aug 18, 2008


Two things I caught when reading the various articles on this. First Fox class it The Watchme, everyone knows it is Watchmen (reporter at Variety must be a fan boy because he is the only one to catch Fox's mistake). So Fox does not even know the name of the film and they want it. Second, from what I have read Fox has no interest in money. They have stated their goal is to Kill the film, as in NEVER HAVE IT RELEASED. That is right, they said that sometimes when copyrights are violated, there is no money value that can help. Now, yes I konw that may be a bargining point, but just the fact that they have stated they want the film killed is not good. I side with WB on this one, Fox had the rights since 1991, and did nothing with it. Lets hope there is a deal struck,

Tom on Aug 18, 2008


i don't really understand the hole scenario, but this is what wb gets when they fuck with all the wizards' heads out there..i really hope fox wins so they can teach wb a lesson in karma(even if they are right in this one)

LeeMan on Aug 18, 2008


from what I can tell the film is complete, correct? therefore whoever ends up with the rights will distribute the film and people will be able to watch it, correct? so whats the big deal about who has the rights...unless of course Fox lands the film, chops it up and ruins it...but then again IF Fox get the film, I'd think that would already hurt the advertising of it. I mean they can't keep it on the down low for long that another studio developed and produced the film and then Fox came in and takes all the credit!

Josveta on Aug 18, 2008


well if ryan (no.27) is correct, doesn't that mean, that gordon is the guy to be sued. of course fox will get to the guys with money, but gordon is obviously the bad guy here. it was his fault to sell the rights to wb without telling them the whole story. legally i think that fox still owns the rights to the movie. you cannot sell something that you don't own. but on the other hand i find it hard to believe that if they waited that long since the very first announcement of a watchmen movie, that they will get "100% of the rights" back. a fair solution is either a major buy-out (in the millions easily i'ld guess) or something like 10% of the movies gross! after all wb did all the work, had all the risk and so on! but its a legal case in the us, so anything is possible.

tronicIO on Aug 18, 2008


Alex I AGREE WITH YOU 100%!!! Although they may be suits, it was Warner's suits that had the brains and balls to get this project up and running and relinquish creative control to Snyder and Co., which according to Kevin Smith, turns out to be an amazing achievement. After it's uncompromising creative commitment to The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. has proved that it is willing to shell out the big bucks to make these comic films, but allow the artists to do it their way. Fox is just jumping in this now because they saw the sucess of TDK and figured that they could fanaggle some legal bull shit to leach off of the potential of Watchmen. Do people not realize that FOX doesn't give a shit about releasing a dark and disturbing comic fable that will challenge the viewer intellectually???...They are RIGHT-WING media imperialists who need to be stopped. I am so excited for this movie, but if I'm not going to see that WB symbol before the beginning of this film, I will boycott it as well.

B-Rabs on Aug 19, 2008


So long as I see the movie, I'm happy.

Kail on Aug 19, 2008


If somehow WB doesnt get to release this film and I was in charge I'd move up the new Potter to the same weekend to suck the money away from Fox.

Joker on Aug 19, 2008


I think that Fox would realize that as popular as this movie is right now, if they screw with it, the backlash will be bad. If they tone it down and rearrange it and essentially neuter it, people will talk about it. If they kill it completely, I'm sure someone will sue and cause legal trouble. They'd have to be idiots to let the movie get this exposure and then ruin it. Fox may right wing media imperialists as mentioned earlier, but they know how to do business.

Rogue on Aug 19, 2008


Yep - studio Karma. Serves 'em right. Pushing Potter back almost a year - pfft. Eat it WB. *sort of joking

bozoconnors on Aug 19, 2008


Sorry Alex, but this is a BRILLIANT move on Fox'sx legal team, waiting until it was completed so all of the cost is on WB. To be fair though, it IS Gordon's fault, but we all know quite well that you won't boycott it and no one else will. In fact, it is probably BETTER that Fox is releasing. We all know that Fox has a TERRIFIC marketing team that can make crap like NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM and ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS $250M+ and $200M+ hits. While Fox has good viral, I don't think Watchmen is that type of movie. Also, Fox has more hits than WB by far looking at the all-time domestic grosses. If not for the DARK KNIGHT, WB would NO films in the Top 20 of all-time while Fox has 3. What Fox is doing is pretty dubious, but hey!, it's a dog eat dog world.

Ryan on Aug 19, 2008


When did Warner Bros' become all that is right and good in this world? Did I miss something? These are the guys who gave us Superman returns, after sitting on the Superman legacy longer than Fox sat on Watchmen, which they had SEVERAL treatments written for and multiple directors attached to at various points, so don't pull the "they never did anything with it" card. They, like most people, didn't think the film was "filmable". I'm thrilled WB and Snyder proved them wrong, but don't make it look like they just sat there laughing as fans languished. They wanted to make it, they didn't know how. Are they the parent company of Right-wing propagandists? Certainly. But they're also a corporation, just like WB, and this is business to both of them. As much as we wish it wasn't, it is.

Ryan on Aug 19, 2008


This is a legal problem that most likely be resolved out of court. Warner Bros will pay because there most likely in the wrong. I have no doubt that Watchmen will hit theaters as scheduled.

entertainmenttodayandbeyond.com on Aug 19, 2008


"If this happens and Fox does end up with the rights, I will be the first to boycott the movie." Sure you will.

joel on Aug 19, 2008


The Cake is a Lie!!!

WaterFunk on Aug 19, 2008


Realistic, Cursing out and insulting people on message boards is about as childish and cowardly as you can get. Grow up pal. Alex, Fox has a legitimate legal gripe here according to the courts, just let the situation play out. Besides, WB has to take some blame here too considering it didn't completely secure Watchmen and was dumb enough to let something like this happen. And talking about boycotting the movie if Fox wins is just ridiculous, we all know you're bluffing hard when you say something like that.

Daas on Aug 19, 2008


Even if Fox does have a buy-out, WB can ask the judge to arbitrate it as a part of the judgement to keep the cost reasonable. There are plenty of ways to get this taken care of, but WB is in the unenviable position of having to get it all done on a tight timeline--they don't have time for all the legal "hurry up and wait" bullshit...not if they want this movie released on time.

RStewie on Aug 19, 2008


So I'm a little confused on one point. Did the WB realize that this might be a problem at some point? Or did they honestly think this was all settled and that they had the rights to distribute? I do feel bad for them a little I guess but it sounds like people just didn't check the facts. I'm sure some sort of reasonable agreement will be made that both sides can live with.

janet on Aug 19, 2008


Fox must die. I'm starting to point my finger at Gordon's direction. Fox is simply grabbing the piece of meat dangling over them. Brilliant? Maybe. Over-scheming? Perhaps? Bitching that they sat on their ASS on a cool property and did nothing! Oh fucking yes. As for the Harry Potter thing -- like I read over at Cinematical, do you think WB didn't know the shitstorm that was heading their way over that move? That they didn't see it coming? Of course they did, so I'm pretty sure they had to think they had a damn good reason for doing it. But what Fox is doing is riding the wave created by another studio. That just sucks. Alex, I'm with you on this one. Do you think there's a chance you could tak with Gordon himself? All in all, I will not boycott the movie, but if Fox does get the rights, it just won't feel the same; I'll be blown away, not BLOWN away. Gracias!

Juan Carlo Rodríguez (Venezuela) on Aug 19, 2008


You all can do a lot more damage to Fox by boycotting their upcoming December release of "The Day the Earth Stood Still."

Autopath on Aug 19, 2008


This was a cleverly devised trap from two decades ago. Warner Bros. just happened to wander into it. Or maybe they figured they could settle in court for the distribution rights. It seems to me that Fox didn't give a shit about the project or was incapable of delivering anything, and so decided to sell all rights except for distribution, so that they could wait until someone else did the work and come along to scoop it all up for themselves. Sound like a diabolical scheme to you? That's because it is. Don't underestimate the darkness within people. I'm not being religious here. I'm just saying that there are way more people who want to get paid for as little work as possible than there are people who want to do good work and see it through to a polished and praise-worthy final product. That's the founding principle of this capitalist nation. The goal is to input as little cost as possible and turn as much revenue as possible. Buy low, sell high.

JL on Aug 19, 2008


JL, Let's face it. The Dark Side IS stronger. That's why I work there part-time. I still get to be a "good guy (girl)" but also get all the benefits of being on the current winning team!!

RStewie on Aug 20, 2008


jl, i agree you make a lot of really great and thought out points. However Rstewie is right too...its not personal its business and id much rather be on the finacial "recieving end" when all is said and done.

curtfrmcali on Aug 20, 2008


Well of course it's business. It's always all about the money. The love of money is the root of all evil.

JL on Aug 20, 2008


And if #33 Tom is right about Fox wanting to KILL the whole project, It'll be hard to convince me to see a movie if I know it's a 21st century Fox movie. And that includes X-Men Origins: Wolverine which I was only midly excited about anyway. This, I think, is unlikely though, because Fox stands to make a lot of money off of this project if they indeed have the rights they claim to have.

JL on Aug 20, 2008


I have to say, I was pretty upset when I heard the news. Sounds like this Gordon guy is the real asshole here. I don't think Fox is going to cut the film, and if they do, well the joke's on them, because they'll be getting mailbombed for the rest of eternity. Let's not kid ourselves though, nobody here is going to boycott the movie if Fox releases it. If nothing else, curiosity will get the best of you and you'll go see it then.

Kate on Aug 20, 2008


Oh hey look, a petition. Everyone sign it and spread the word. It has hundreds of signatures already. http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/FOXBoycott

Autopath on Aug 21, 2008

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