Plagued by fans complaining about the possibility of being robbed of the Watchmen movie by a copyright infringement lawsuit from 20th Century Fox, a statement from the studio has asked fans back off, direct their anger elsewhere and respect proper ownership of intellectual property. Because, you know, that worked so well for the record industry.In a statement released to Entertainment Weekly about the matter, Fox said
Of course we are concerned about the fans; however, any disappointment from the core fans should not be directed toward Fox. What we are doing is seeking to enforce our distribution rights to Watchmen. Legal copyright ownership should not just be swept under the rug and ignored.
Warners, for their part, are saying very little in response:
We respectfully disagree with Fox's position and do not believe they have any rights in and to this project.
While Fox may have good reasons to try and delay or destroy the release of Watchmen (Not least of which would be to protect their own summer movies, including X-Men Origins: Wolverine, due out the week before Watchmen's projected date), they deny that they are trying to do any such thing; they're just trying to protect their interests and have been trying to do so since the movie started pre-production:
[A]ccording to a Fox source, studio lawyers contacted Warner Bros. about the distribution rights issue several times prior to the start of production but were rebuffed.
Uncivil Society's Jeff Trexler found more damning evidence in Fox's favor when examining the court documents:
Arguably the most explosive sentence in the order: "It is particularly noteworthy that nothing on the face of the complaint or the documents supplied to the Court establishes that Gordon, the claimed source of Warner Brothers' interest in 'Watchmen,' ever acquired any rights in 'Watchmen.'"
Deadline Hollywood has a timeline of events, as laid out in the court documents; again, it's not looking too good for Warners:
1994: Fox negotiated a "Settlement and Release" agreement with Gordon which contemplated that the Watchmen project would be put in "perpetual turnaround" to Lawrence Gordon Productions, Inc. The "turnaround notice" gave Lawrence Gordon Productions "the perpetual right . . . to acquire all of the right, title and interest of Fox [Watchmen] pursuant to the terms and conditions herein provided." The turnaround notice then described the formula for determining the buy-out price in the event that Gordon elected to acquire Fox's interest. Thus, the document suggests that Gordon acquired an option to acquire Fox's interest in Watchmen for a price... May 2006: Warner Brothers, allegedly with knowledge of the 1991 Quitclaim, entered into a quitclaim agreement with Gordon under which it claims to have acquired the rights to the Watchmen project. Fox alleges that these facts demonstrate that, at the very least, it retained distribution rights in Watchmen, that it performed all of its obligations under the relevant agreements, and that while it granted Gordon what amounted to an option to acquire its rights, neither Gordon nor his successors ever fulfilled their contractual obligations to Fox. Indeed, Fox contends that Warner Bros either knew or turned a blind eye to the fact that Fox had retained distribution rights in the project, and that Gordon had not perfected his interest in the Watchmen project before quitclaiming it to Warner Brothers.
It now falls to Warners and/or Lawrence Gordon to prove that the Fox option was exercised, or perhaps pay the kind of settlement to Fox that Charlie has previously hinted at; one thing is for sure: Warners need Watchmen's buzz and potential box office next year, and they're probably willing to pay any price to keep it. The Watchmen War [Entertainment Weekly] Watchmen lawsuit original documents [Uncivil Society] SAVE US! Warner's 'Watchmen' In Legal Peril After Judge Won't Dismiss Fox Suit [Deadline Hollywood]