A Los Angeles federal court judge said on Wednesday (Dec. 24) that he plans to grant a claim made by 20th Century Fox that the studio owns a copyright interest in "Watchmen."
Judge Gary A. Feess is expected to provide a more detailed order soon, according to The New York Times, which broke the story.
The rule causes obvious complications for "Watchmen," which was produced by Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures. The adaptation of the classic graphic novel is set for release in March and stands as one of the year's most anticipated features.
Distilled in its simplest form (books can be written on the more complicated version), the history of "Watchmen" and its tortured journey to the big screen begins in the late 1980s, when 20th Century Fox acquired the rights to the Alan Moore and David Gibbons comic for producer Lawrence Gordon. Fox eventually dropped plans to make the difficult adult feature and Gordon shopped the film to Universal and Paramount before finding a home at Warner Brothers with "300" helmer Zack Snyder directing (and Paramount still handling international distribution).
The problem: Fox filed suit in February claiming that Gordon never exercised an option to acquire the studio's interest in the movie, meaning that Fox still controls copyrights under a turnaround agreement that dates back to 1984.
Wednesday's ruling comes as a surprise, since Judge Feess announced only last week that he would be unable to make a ruling and pushed back the possible trial to Jan. 20.
The Times says Wednesday's ruling proclaims, simply, "Fox owns a copyright interest consisting of, at the very least, the right to distribute the 'Watchmen' motion picture."
As Warner Bros. obviously isn't going to just hand the property over to Fox, Judge Feess' suggests, "The parties may wish to turn their efforts from preparing for trial to negotiating a resolution of this dispute or positioning the case for review."
Stay tuned for more details.
Also, Drew McWeeny sounds off on the ruling. Read more in his Motion Captured blog.