‘Watchmen’ fate goes to federal judge

Fox, WB forego jury trial on legal tussle

Fox and Warner Bros. have decided to forgo a jury trial in their legal tussle over which studio has distribution rights to “Watchmen” and agreed instead to let a federal judge decide in two weeks whether Fox can block release of the pic.

The studios reached that agreement Monday with U.S. District Court Judge Gary Allen Feess, who ruled on Christmas Eve that Fox owns the distribution rights to the dark superhero pic.

Both sides stipulated that Feess would determine at a Jan. 20 hearing whether Fox is entitled to a permanent injunction. The studios also agreed that neither would oppose any request to expedite an appeal.

Feess advised the studios on Christmas Eve to either reach a settlement or prepare an appeal but they’ve been unable to settle since then. 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 contends 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.

Par’s handling the international release of “Watchmen” and plans a day-and-date opening in many major markets.

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