Fox has stake in 'Watchmen,' judge says

Preliminary ruling could force Warners to settle

The judge presiding over Fox's suit against Warner Bros. over the latter's Zack Snyder-helmed action film "Watchmen" has issued a ruling that Fox has a copyright stake in the planned March release.

"Fox owns a copyright interest consisting of, at the very least, the right to distribute the 'Watchmen' motion picture," U.S. District Court judge Gary Feess said in the ruling.

The preliminary ruling throws a wrench into Warners' planned release of the Legendary Pictures-produced movie. Fox and Warners had been prepping for a Jan. 20 trial date, but the ruling could force Warners to settle -- likely in the form of payment -- if it hopes to put the film in theaters.

Fox developed the project but eventually passed; "Watchmen" moved around to other studios before Warners picked it up and greenlighted it. The tale is based on Alan Moore's graphic-novel serial about a band of heroes.

A detailed order clarifying the status of a potential release is expected to be issued soon.

A trial was expected to pit two studios in a rare public showdown.
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