Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #210: Who Owns The Watchmen?


A judge has placed a summary judgment declaring that 20th Century Fox owns the movie version of Alan Moore's Watchmen made by Warner Bros., despite having given up on actually making their own version of the movie over 10 years ago. Warner Bros. is naturally enraged, and pledges to fight to the last drop of legal blood.

Now I'm not a lawyer, but I would like to know what the hell happened to give the judge the reasons he needed to hand over to Fox a film they did not make. I mean who wrote the original option contract, Elmer Fudd after a head injury?

Perhaps I should do a wee bit of explaining for those of you who do not know what an option contract is. Let's say you run a movie studio and you want to make a movie version of a book, a screenplay, or a comic. You have your people contact the people who own the movie rights of what you want, in the case of Watchmen: DC Comics (a division, ironically, of Warner Bros.).

Once this contact is made, you sign a contract to buy an option on the project. An option is where you pay the owner of a property a certain amount of money to give you the exclusive right to make a movie from that property, for a certain amount of time.

The key words are a certain amount of time. You see most options have an expiry date, a time when you must either use it or lose it, or barring that, you have to pay the piper again to renew your option.

Now some companies keep renewing options with no intention of actually making the movie, but in order to keep someone else from making the movie without them. However, that strategy can get pricey after a while, because in business pettiness is expensive, especially when it doesn't put something in theatres that can put bums in seats. Most options only last a year or two at most, and I've never heard of an option running longer than that, and definitely not for more than 10 years.

The only way I can imagine 20th Century Fox could possibly have any legitimate claim on Watchmen is that they kept paying DC Comics to renew the option. This would mean that Warner Bros. legal department did not know that a division of their company was being paid by a major competitor for the rights to a film they were spending around $100 million to make.

This means that either Fox has no case, or Warner Bros. needs a new legal department.

Well, I'll be watching these Watchmen because someone's going to be in deep trouble over this.

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