Los Angeles federal judge Gary Allen Feess ruled on Christmas Eve that 20th Century Fox owns the distribution rights to WATCHMEN, a film they developed but was ultimately made by Warner Bros. and is due for a March 6 release (per VARIETY).
In a surprise five-page ruling a week after setting a Jan. 20 trial date for Fox's suit, Feess said, "Fox owns a copyright interest consisting of, at the very least, the right to distribute the WATCHMEN motion picture."
Feess said he would issue a more detailed ruling soon, and advised the studios to either reach a settlement or prepare an appeal, saying, "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."
Warner Bros. has not budged off its planned release date since the suit was filed by Fox in February, contending it owns the distribution rights to the graphic novel adaptation. WB spokesman Scott Rowe declined to comment. The original suit said that producer Lawrence Gordon's option to acquire Fox's remaining interest in the novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons was never exercised, leaving Fox with its rights under a 1994 turnaround agreement.
WB in turn has denied that Fox holds the copyright. Fox bought the rights in the late 1980s, spending more than $1 million developing the project before it went to Universal, then Paramount and later Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures, where it was made with director Zack Snyder.
Paramount is handling the international release, planning day-and-date rollouts in many major markets.