Fox, WB continue ‘Watchmen’ war

Studios have yet to reach a settlement

Fox and Warner Bros. remain at war over “Watchmen,” with Warners proclaiming it’s not moving off its March 6 release date.

No settlement emerged Monday, when U.S. District Court Judge Gary Allen Feess held a status conference with attorneys for the two sides. Feess, who found last week that Fox owns the distribution rights to “Watchmen,” indicated he’ll issue a fuller ruling prior to the Jan. 20 trial date to resolve the remaining issues.

Fox, which first acquired rights to the graphic novel in 1986, filed the suit in February at about the same time director Zack Snyder wrapped production. The studio contends it retains distribution rights under a 1994 turnaround agreement with producer Larry Gordon, who took “Watchmen” to Warner Bros. after attempts to make it with Fox, Universal and Paramount.

Feess found in the initial ruling that Gordon, who’s not a defendant in the case, had never exercised his option to acquire Fox’s remaining interest in “Watchmen” nor had he honored his agreement since 2005 to offer the project to Fox under the “changed elements” part of the pact. For its part, Warner contended that Fox did not own any rights to “Watchmen.”

In last week’s ruling, Feess also rebuked Gordon over invoking attorney-client privilege rather than testifying. “The court will not, during the remainder of this case, receive any evidence from Gordon that attempts to contradict any aspect of this court’s ruling on the copyright issues under discussion,” he wrote.

In its first comment since Feess’ ruling, Warner Bros. took a combative tone Monday and announced it still expects to win the case.

“We respectfully but vigorously disagree with the court’s ruling and are exploring all of our appellate options,” the studio said. “We continue to believe that Fox’s claims have no merit and that we will ultimately prevail, whether at trial or in the Court of Appeals. We have no plans to move the release date of the film.”

Fox issued a measured response, saying, “We are gratified by the recognition of our rights in the judge’s order, which speaks for itself.”

Although the studios are expected to hammer out a monetary settlement to resolve the dispute, an attorney for Fox said Monday that the studio plans to continue seeking an order delaying the release.

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