WatchmenWatch: Will Warners settle or fight to the cartoonishly-stylized death?

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WatchmenWatch: Will Warners settle or fight to the cartoonishly-stylized death?

Tue Dec 30, 2008 @ 01:19AM PST

Watchmen_lawsuit

By Matthew Belloni

What in the name of Nite Owl is going on in the "Watchmen" case?

At this point it's anyone's guess. First Judge Gary Feess tentatively denies summary judgment and declares that the heated dispute between Warner Bros. and Fox will be tried on Jan 20, a mere six weeks before Warners' planned Mar 6 release of Zack Snyder's potential blockbuster based on the Alan Moore graphic novel. Then Feess changes his mind, issuing an odd 5-page preliminary ruling on Christmas Eve that says Fox owns "at the very least" a distribution right in the film and setting a status conference for today to explain what that means for the case.

So what happens today? Pretty much nothing. Feess stands on his ruling and says a more detailed explanation is forthcoming; trial date remains; the traditional dueling statements begin flying (Warners is still incredulous, Fox remains triumphant). And both sides strategize about what to do next. 

Without a final ruling, it's hard to predict what will happen. But those calling for a quick settlement might be underestimating the rancor on both sides and what Warners has to gain by letting this play out a bit.

It all comes down to whether Feess will issue an injunction. If the judge blocks the release then it's game over, Fox can demand whatever it wants and Warners will pay (like it did back in 2005 when an injunction was issued against "The Dukesof Hazzard"--by, you guessed it, Judge Gary Feess--and the studio quickly settled for a reported $17.5 million).

But despite the judge having apparently become convinced over the past week that producer Lawrence Gordon failed to do everything required of him to get the "Watchmen" film rights back from Fox in Turnaround, an injunction certainly isn't a given here. Under copyright law, a rightsholder still has to show, among other things, that it will be "irreparably harmed" absent an injunction, and it's hard to see how Fox, which basically sat on its rights as the "Watchmen" project bounced from studio to studio, can't wait until a trial to get whatever money it's entited to from any infringement.

And if it's just money the two sides are fighting over, Warners has little reason to settle now. The Burbank studio really believes it's in the right here, and cowtowing to a rival on a chain-of-title issue when the film is about to be released would set a horrible precedent. Plus, given how the judge waffled in his reasoning and seemed to base his decision in part on his displeasure with Gordon (and his lawyer, Dale Kinsella) refusing to testify about key facts, there seems to be plenty of issues on which to hang a fat appeal.  

Or maybe Warners has had enough with this judge. Given all the uncertainty Feess has let linger in the air, it's clear that he, for one, wants this thing to settle ASAP.     

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The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter, Esq. blog focuses on how the entertainment and media industries are impacted and influenced by the law. It is edited by Matthew Belloni with contributions from veteran legal reporter Eriq Gardner and others. Before joining The Hollywood Reporter, Belloni was a lawyer at an entertainment litigation firm in Los Angeles. He writes a column for THR devoted to entertainment law. Gardner is a New York-based writer and legal journalist. Send tips or comments to Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

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