Judge finds in favor of studio

A Los Angeles federal judge has ruled that 20th Century Fox owns the distribution rights to “Watchmen,” representing a setback for Warner Bros.’ plans to release the pic in March.

“Fox owns a copyright interest consisting of, at the very least, the right to distribute the ‘Watchmen’ motion picture,” the ruling said.

Judge Gary Allen Feess issued the surprise ruling Wednesday — a week after setting a Jan. 20 trial date for Fox’s suit — and indicated he would issue a more detailed ruling soon. Warner spokesman Scott Rowe declined to comment.

Warner Bros. has not backed off a release date of March 6 for “Watchmen,” directed by Zack Snyder and starring Patrick Wilson and Jackie Earle Haley.

Fox filed the suit in February, contending it retains distribution rights to the graphic novel penned by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons.

The suit asserts that producer Lawrence Gordon’s option to acquire Fox’s remaining interest in “Watchmen” was never exercised, thereby leaving Fox with its rights under a 1994 turnaround agreement. Warner Bros. has denied Fox’s assertions and contended Fox doesn’t hold the copyright.

Fox originally acquired the rights to “Watchmen” in the late 1980s and spent more than $1 million developing the project, which later went to Universal and then Paramount before landing at Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures.

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