ENTERTAINMENT LITIGATION: STUDIOS SETTLE “WATCHMEN” LITIGATION

FOX AND WARNER BROTHERS COME TO AN APPARENT AGREEMENT ON UPCOMING TENTPOLE FILM

In a filing with the United States District Court in Los Angeles yesterday, Fox and Warner Bros. revealed that they have apparently settled their differences over the upcoming motion picture, “Watchmen.” The studios have been embroiled in a lawsuit since February 2008 over who controls the right to produce and distribute a motion picture based on the “graphic novel.” Warner produced the picture and is the movie’s distributor. Fox claimed that it still owned the rights to make and/or distribute any film based on the property.

I was asked to comment on the dispute for the Los Angeles Times in a story penned by John Horn in November 2008. That story details the long arduous process of getting the story to the silver screen — which in large part caused this dispute among the studios.

Now that the film’s opening is approaching, it’s no surprise that the studios want to settle.

WITH THE UPCOMING RELEASE, THE STAKES ARE TOO HIGH NOT TO SETTLE

As with every film, no studio can know with certainty how successful any release will be. Warner set the release date for “Watchmen” on March 6 — less than 2 months away. However, in this litigation, Fox was in the process of seeking a permanent injunction to block the movie’s release, which the court was scheduled to hear next week, on January 20. With Warner’s substantial investment in this picture — the budget alone was reportedly in excess of $100 million — the stakes are simply too high to risk that release date to a court decision.

So it should come as no surprise that the studios decided to settle the case before they had to litigate the injunction in court. Undoubtedly, the parties will try to keep the terms confidential. Whether there are any terms relating to additional films based on the “graphic novel” remains to be seen.

(I assume “graphic novel” as Warner’s trailers call the underlying property is just a fancy name for “comic book.”)

I’ll say one thing. I have seen Warner’s trailer and ads for the film, some of which you can see here. So I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what all the hubub’s about.