Fox sues over 'Watchmen'

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20th Century Fox has initiated a legal battle against Warner Bros. over the rights to develop, produce and distribute a film based on the graphic novel "Watchmen."

On Friday, the studio sued Warners, claiming it holds the exclusive copyrights and contract rights to "Watchmen."

Warners plans to release next year a big-screen version of the popular comic book written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons. The cast includes Jackie Earle Haley, Billy Crudup, Patrick Wilson, Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman. It is the studio's policy to not comment on pending litigation.

But Fox seeks to enjoin Warners from going forward with the project, saying in the lawsuit that it seeks to "restrain (Warner Bros. Pictures) from taking actions that violate Fox's copyrights and which stand to forever impair Fox's rights to control the distribution and development of this unique work."

Fox claims that between 1986 and 1990, it acquired all movie rights to the 12-issue DC Comics series and screenplays by Charles McKeown and Sam Hamm. In 1991, Fox assigned some rights via a quitclaim to Largo International with the understanding that the studio held exclusive rights to distribute the first motion picture based on "Watchmen," according to the lawsuit.

When Largo dismantled, the rights were transferred to producer Lawrence Gordon. Under a "turnaround agreement" between Fox and Gordon, the producer agreed to pay a buy-out price to Fox if he entered into any agreement with another studio or third party to develop or produce "Watchmen," among other things.

The project apparently bounced around to Universal and Paramount before returning to Warners. Now, Fox claims that neither Gordon nor Warners has paid the buy-out price or advised the studio of any other conditions required under the agreement, including procedures necessary to acquire the rights to "Watchmen" from Fox.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.
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