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Studios in talks to end 'Watchmen' suit

20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. have been in a copyright battle over the film.

January 10, 2009|John Horn

Lawyers for 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. told a judge Friday that they were trying to settle the copyright lawsuit over "Watchmen," a signal that the nearly year-old court fight over the superhero movie may be nearing a conclusion.

The attorneys were to appear before U.S. District Judge Gary A. Feess to schedule a trial later this month over the film's distribution rights when they told the judge that settlement talks were underway.

Warner Bros. is scheduled to release the $130-million film from "300" director Zack Snyder on March 6. But Fox won a Dec. 24 decision from Feess ruling that Fox, not Warner Bros., held a copyright interest that gave Fox distribution rights to the film, expected to be one of the spring's biggest releases. Fox had obtained movie rights to the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons in 1986, and Feess found that Warner Bros. never fully obtained them from Fox.

Neither Warner Bros. nor Fox would comment on the settlement talks. But Warner Bros. does not have a lot of interest in the film left to share with Fox because it has split production costs and distribution territories with, respectively, Legendary Films and Paramount Pictures.

In a separate development, a lawyer for producer Larry Gordon -- whose representations are at the center of the dispute, even though he is not a party in the lawsuit -- wrote an unusual letter to the judge explaining Gordon's behavior.

The judge has complained about Gordon's refusal to answer some questions about the project's history, citing attorney-client privilege. "The court takes a dim view of this conduct and questions whether the assertion of privilege was proper," Feess said in a footnote to his Dec. 24 order.

In the letter to the judge dated Jan. 7, Gordon attorney Patricia Millett said her client had been subjected to "significant public scorn" as a result of testimony in the case. "Mr. Gordon in fact answered numerous questions regarding his recollection of events at the time," Millett wrote.

But a local rule of federal courts prevents such letters from being accepted, and Feess called it "an improper communication" and returned it unread. Millett did not respond to a telephone message seeking comment.

The parties are due back in court Monday.

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john.horn@latimes.com

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