WB won't back down on lawsuit

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Warner Bros.' message to Fox regarding the latter's copyright-infringement suit over "Watchmen" can be summed up this way: Bring it on.

In a defiant statement issued Monday, Warners said it is prepared to go to trial or to appeal last week's ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess, who said the studio had infringed on Fox's copyright in making the film adaptation of Alan Moore's superhero graphic novel.

"We respectfully but vigorously disagree with the court's ruling and are exploring all of our appellate options," the studio said. "We continue to believe that Fox's claims have no merit and that we will ultimately prevail, whether at trial or in the Court of Appeals."

Fox is seeking an injunction against Warners' release of the movie, scheduled for March 6, but Warners said Monday that "we have no plans to move the release date of the film."

"Watchmen," directed by Zack Snyder ("300"), is one of Warners' tentpoles for next year, with a budget well north of $120 million. Although it is considered a seminal piece of literature with an appeal beyond the geek and comics community, Warners carefully has been implementing a publicity campaign designed to generate word-of-mouth and awareness of the movie.

Both sides met Monday morning at the Los Angeles federal court, where Feess said he stood by his Christmas Eve ruling and also said he plans to hold a trial Jan. 20 to decide remaining issues such as damages, how far Fox's rights extend and whether to block the release of the movie.

Feess said he will issue a full detailed ruling shortly. When he does, Warners will have to decide whether to appeal, go forward with the trial or settle.

While Monday's events and statements would seem to suggest that a settlement is unlikely, both sides' hard-line postures could be strategic.

Fox, which finally snapped a long boxoffice losing streak with "Marley & Me" last weekend, would benefit most from a settlement rather than a blocked release. The studio already is taking a beating in the geek blogosphere for what fans see as messing with a favorite property.

Warners, meanwhile, could be on the hook for millions after developing and then filming the movie. Fox claims that "Watchmen" producer Larry Gordon failed to pay turnaround fees after allegedly reacquiring rights to the property.

"We are gratified by the recognition of our rights in the judge's order, which speaks for itself," Fox said.(partialdiff)
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