December 30, 2008 / 8:40 PM / 9 years ago

UPDATE 1-Warner Bros says will fight 'Watchmen' ruling

(Adds comment from Fox)

LOS ANGELES, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Warner Bros says it has no plans to move the March 6 release date of its upcoming film “Watchmen” and may fight an adverse court ruling that gives Twentieth Century Fox the right to distribute the film.

U.S. District Judge Gary Feess said at a hearing on Monday that he would delay ruling on an injunction sought by Fox to bar release of the film, saying he would consider the request, as well as damages and other issues, at a Jan. 20 hearing.

The hearing followed Feess’ ruling last week that the film, which reportedly cost Warner Bros more than $120 million to make, infringes on a copyright held by Fox.

Feess ruled on Dec. 24 that Fox still owned “at the very least, a distribution right” in the film, based on a comic book series about superheroes, because producer Lawrence Gordon had never acquired those rights from the studio.

Gordon tried for years to adapt the series into a film, and was successful after teaming with “300” director Zack Snyder and Time Warner Inc-owned (TWX.N) Warner Bros.

In a statement issued on Monday, Warner said it was considering an appeal of the copyright infringement finding.

“We respectfully but vigorously disagree with the Court’s ruling and are exploring all of our appellate options,” the statement 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. We have no plans to move the release date of the film.”

Fox said in a statement that it was “gratified by the recognition of our rights in the judge’s order, which speaks for itself.”

The dispute centers on an agreement between Gordon, who is not a defendant in the copyright infringement lawsuit, and Fox, his longtime distributor for such films as “Die Hard.”

After acquiring the rights to the popular but dark-themed graphic novel “Watchmen” in 1986, Fox conveyed those rights to a company controlled by Gordon, but maintained the right to distribute the first film based on the novel.

In 1994, Gordon withdrew from that company and acquired its interest in “Watchmen” but was still obligated to allow Fox distribute the first film, Feess ruled.

Warner Bros had argued that Fox lost its interest in “Watchmen” when it released the project to Gordon.

Feess rejected that position, finding that Gordon had never paid an agreed-upon buyout price for Fox’s rights to the property.

Twentieth Century Fox is a unit of News Corp (NWSA.O). (Reporting by Gina Keating; Editing by Brian Moss)

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