Fox Tries To Kill Watchmen

from the thank-you-intellectual-property... dept

The movie version of DC Comics' Watchmen is getting a lot of hype these days, as the early buzz on the film is quite strong. But, you may not get to see it at all. That's because 20th Century Fox claims that it owns the rights to Watchmen, despite the fact that the movie was being made by competitor Warner Brothers. Fox had owned the movie rights to Watchmen decades ago, but was unable to make a movie out of it. However, the producer that Fox had originally signed to do the project eventually popped up at Warner Brothers with the project. Fox claims it still owns the rights and is suing Warner to stop the release of the movie entirely. Most expect that this will get settled long before the movie's scheduled release in March of next year -- but it will probably mean that Fox gets some of the profits for doing absolutely nothing.

To be honest, the whole concept of selling off exclusive rights to a story idea for a movie never made that much sense. If multiple studios want to make multiple movies out of the same concept, why shouldn't that be allowed, letting the best movie win in the marketplace? If the original content creators feel strongly about a vision, then they can sign up to work with one particular studio to make sure the movie is more true to life -- but it shouldn't require "exclusive" rights. In fact, we've already seen this in practice. Technically, no one can copyright a true news story -- so movie studios have no exclusive rights to making a movie out of a news story. Yet, they will often still buy the rights -- without it being legally necessary. There are a few reasons why: it signals to others that you're making a movie on the topic and it often comes with ties to those close to the original story to get them involved in the project. Why aren't the same things done with adaptations?

We've seen a few authors recognize this. Jonathan Lethem freed up his latest book for anyone to make a movie out of it -- so long as they promised to put the movie into the public domain five years after it was completed. And then there's Paulo Coelho, who freed up one of his books and told fans to make their own movies about parts of it -- which he would stitch together into a larger movie. If Fox really wanted to make a Watchmen movie, it should have done so. It shouldn't now prevent someone else from doing so -- or, even worse, get a cut of the action for doing nothing.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 6:41pm

    FOX needs to fire their PR people

    I mean shit. I know its FOX, and other than the Simpsons they kill every good show but still. This is just DUMB.

     

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    chris (profile), Aug 19th, 2008 @ 6:43pm

    fox did plenty

    they've spent many years "not making" the watchmen. this is a grueling and expensive process and anyone in the intellectual property business will tell you. waiting to get paid via litigation is what keeps this country strong.

     

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  3.  
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    mobiGeek, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 6:53pm

    Even worse?

    or, even worse, get a cut of the action for doing nothing
    Out of curiosity Mike, why do you think it is worse for them to get money from nothing over entirely blocking others from making the work at all?

    Sorry, I'm picking nits, but sometimes I gotta know, y'know? :-)

     

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  4.  
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    Ortzinator, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 6:57pm

    Re: Even worse?

    It's called sarcasm.

     

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    Matt, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 6:59pm

    But...

    So, yeah, this is basically horseshit.

    But if Fox "owned" the rights, then how is it that nobody @ WB noticed this before they made the movie? It seems like somebody royally screwed the pooch, if Fox has a legitimate claim. Of course, this is going to open the proverbial flood gates, and any ass hat at a film studio that's ever even heard of a comic book will now go looking to option everything that had even half-way decent sales.

    Yay! Nobody wins but the studios!

     

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  6.  
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    Mike (profile), Aug 19th, 2008 @ 7:30pm

    Re: Even worse?

    Out of curiosity Mike, why do you think it is worse for them to get money from nothing over entirely blocking others from making the work at all?

    Heh, well it seems problematic to have someone rewarded for doing nothing, because it encourages more of that behavior.

     

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  7.  
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    Maniac in a Speedo'ed, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 7:31pm

    As Rorschach would say...

    Hurm.

     

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  8.  
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    Cato, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 8:04pm

    Fox delenda est!

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 8:08pm

    Re: FOX needs to fire their PR people

    don't worry, they killed simpsons too.

     

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  10.  
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    ngodfather114, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 8:21pm

    FOX needs to fire their PR people

    Fox really needs to hire new PR people. As many of you have said they simpsons too. But they had a chance to make a hell of alot of cash on dvd sales and blew it. They own the rights to both x-men, and Spiderman animated series from the 1990's, and refuse to release the DVD's. Both have had block buster movies which was a perfect time to release the dvd's and fox refused to. IDIOTS!

     

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    drkkgt, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 8:27pm

    If FOX .....

    OK but watchman was in the making for a long time and and the ads have been going for a while so isn't funny how FOX is only now suing, after the ads have generated so much interest rather than when they first heard about WB's movie.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 9:51pm

    Re: If FOX .....

    Kinda like the Scrabble guys waiting till they had their own online thing before they shut down Scrabulous?

     

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  13.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 10:24pm

    Re: fox did plenty

     

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  14.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 10:25pm

    Re: Re: FOX needs to fire their PR people

     

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  15.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 10:35pm

    Re: fox did plenty

    FOX did plenty of screwing around with the concept and very little of what it takes to actually gets them paid. Why should they get paid for not doing anything productive. Let them eat crow for having missed the boat on this one.

    I'll bet that they took a big write off on all their failled attempts at making the Watchmen and they couldn't have made any money actually making the movie with those development costs hanging over their heads.

    Superman Returns had that problem of including twenty-five years worth of other Superman film projects into the final cost.

    It just makes sense to separate R&D from the actual budget even in the movie business.

     

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  16.  
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    DanC, Aug 19th, 2008 @ 11:24pm

    Re: But...

    But if Fox "owned" the rights, then how is it that nobody @ WB noticed this before they made the movie?

    Although they should have investigated, it was a reasonable assumption that they had the rights, since Warner Brothers owns DC Comics, which in turn published the original Watchmen comic.

     

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  17.  
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    Jeffry Houser (profile), Aug 20th, 2008 @ 12:42am

    Watchmen is more than just a "concept"

    I think Watchmen is more than just a concept.

    A concept might be "A world where superheroes are depicted as real people". I think the story that different people would create around that concept would be radically different.

    Watchmen is much more than a concept. It has specific characters and plot. If the creator of the work wants to sell exclusive rights to that work, then I see no reason to disallow him from that.

    A concept might be a "man who can fly"; yet Hancock and Superman are radically different.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 3:45am

    Re: Re: Even worse?

    Specifically it encourages greed, but as we all know greed is good in America.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 4:23am

    It is allowed

    "To be honest, the whole concept of selling off exclusive rights to a story idea for a movie never made that much sense. If multiple studios want to make multiple movies out of the same concept, why shouldn't that be allowed, letting the best movie win in the marketplace?"

    It is allowed, remember all the Joey Buttafuco movies (I like the Alyssa Milano one best myself). This is about IP really (not just a "concept") and FOX OWNS the watchman IP aparently. WB could have stolen the basic premis and made a new story with new charactors, but they didnt.

     

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  20.  
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    Norm, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 5:23am

    Fox did nothing?

    "..but it will probably mean that Fox gets some of the profits for doing absolutely nothing. "

    Having purchased the rights from the creators of Watchman to make the movie is absolutely something...

    But Mike's mantra is "Copyright is bad, Patents are bad, free music is good"

     

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  21.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 20th, 2008 @ 6:33am

    Re: Fox did nothing?

    So, you're saying it would be better for the rights to be sat in a filing cabinet at Fox than a fully realised movie at Warner, all because there's confusion about who actually owns the rights?

    Fox's claims have not yet been substantiated. Even if it's true, Fox would apparently rather force a much anticipated movie to never be seen by anyone, than simply negotiate a share in resulting profits.

    Typical of a troll here to ignore this kind of logical argument while pulling in bullshit (free music, patents) that actually have nothing to do with the issue at hand...

     

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  22.  
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    Goron, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re: Fox did nothing?

    "Fox would apparently rather force a much anticipated movie to never be seen by anyone, than simply negotiate a share in resulting profits"

    Threatening to stop a movie is just a tactic to settle for more money. The movie will not be stopped from release by Fox

     

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  23.  
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    Norm, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: Fox did nothing?

    So if you bought the rights to a movie and then Disney went ahead and made that movie you'd be ok with it?

    This isn't a hard concept folks. IF Fox did indeed purchase the rights to make the movie form those who created the story and characters then they own it.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 9:28am

    Re: Re: Re: Fox did nothing?

    Limited time to capitalize on rights would make these issues much less of a problem ...

     

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  25.  
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    Mike (profile), Aug 20th, 2008 @ 10:40am

    Re: Re: Re: Fox did nothing?

    So if you bought the rights to a movie and then Disney went ahead and made that movie you'd be ok with it?

    Yes. Because I'd be trying to make a better movie. And if Disney could make a better movie on their own, then so be it. That's competition. It's a good thing.

     

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  26.  
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    Nasch, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:34am

    Really, you don't know why?

    You don't know why people sell exclusive rights for movies? It's about the money, of course. A studio is willing to pay more (probably much, much more) for exclusive rights than non-exclusive rights. They might not even be willing to license non-exclusive rights at all; it's just too risky. If two studios made a movie about the same thing around the same time, they'd have to split the revenues to some extent, because many people would see just one and not the other. Even more devastating, they would have to really try to make a good movie, because if one of them was good and the other a stinker, guess which one would make money? The last thing Hollywood wants is to have to rely on making good movies in order to meet their profit targets (because they don't really know how to do that*). Thus, it's in their interest to eliminate competition by buying exclusive rights. So those who sell movie rights sell exclusive ones, because that's what sells, and at the best price.

    Of course, you probably know all that and your question was rhetorical, but just in case.

    * I'm not saying there are no good movies out of Hollywood, only that those good movies are a result of good directors, actors, assistant senior key grip boy, etc. The studio people have no idea what a good or bad movie is.

     

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  27.  
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    Bobby J., Aug 20th, 2008 @ 4:07pm

    Exclusive Rights have to do with "authorship"

    When it comes to common sense I agree with Nasch up above. Would you invest $75 million in a project that has a competitor coming out with the same title with a $150 million budget? You weaken your chances of making money without exclusive rights. What is a studio really buying without exclusive rights? The right to TRY and make a good movie while someone else tries to as well? That's not good business.

     

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  28.  
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    Mike (profile), Aug 20th, 2008 @ 4:36pm

    Re: Really, you don't know why?

    If two studios made a movie about the same thing around the same time, they'd have to split the revenues to some extent, because many people would see just one and not the other.

    Or seeing one movie would interest more people in the other.

    Even more devastating, they would have to really try to make a good movie, because if one of them was good and the other a stinker, guess which one would make money?

    Oh what a shame. They'd actually have to really try, as opposed to not trying at all? What's the problem again?

    Thus, it's in their interest to eliminate competition by buying exclusive rights.

    Well, I'd argue it's not. Because if competition actually did force them to focus on making good movies, they'd get a lot more business and do better for it.

     

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  29.  
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    Dan, Aug 20th, 2008 @ 11:23pm

    I don't think

    FOX has a leg to stand on in this case. Watchmen was originally written for DC, which is owned by Warner Brothers. The purchase of the movie rights may not have been legal in the first place, depending on who they were purchased from.

     

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  30.  
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    MaxRay, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 7:40am

    Fox like patent trolls?

    First off, I think the legal guys have to see who really has the rights to the movie. Whenever I've heard about a director or studio getting rights for copyrighted work, there's usually a time limitation on it. For example, Fox may have picked up the movie option on Watchman, but it expired after 10 years. They may be able to ante up and renew that option if they let it expire.
    Second, if Fox still does own the exclusive rights to the movie deal, aren't they just like the patent trolls? Just lying in wait to see if the WB movie looks like it will rake in bags of cash and then play their trump card? ("Ahem, I think some of that money is ours")
    Just my 2 cents.

     

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  31.  
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    LostSailor, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 10:32am

    Re: Re: Really, you don't know why?

    If two studios made a movie about the same thing around the same time, they'd have to split the revenues to some extent, because many people would see just one and not the other.

    Or seeing one movie would interest more people in the other.


    While it's possible, it's not likely. This happens fairly frequently, where two studios are developing films with similar themes--two "asteroid is about to hit earth" or two "volcano" movies. The results are usually a cannibalization of viewership, especially in ticket sales. More common these days is for studios to reject to put into turn-around projects that have competition in development at another studio.

    Thus, it's in their interest to eliminate competition by buying exclusive rights.

    Well, I'd argue it's not. Because if competition actually did force them to focus on making good movies, they'd get a lot more business and do better for it.


    You seem to assume that without direct competition, studio's generally aim to make crappy movies. While there are certainly many crappy movies being made, it's not due to lack of competition; indeed, most of the crappy movies are made to capitalize on the success of good films.

    But exclusive rights to specific property is different than studios competing on general themes. As another commenter noted, studios generally won't buy anything but exclusive rights to eliminate the threat that someone else will "steal" the market for that property. Under your scenario where exclusive rights did not exist, you'd likely get less quality as studios rushed to be first in the theaters. Even if a better film of the same property landed later, the audience for that property would be drastically diminished.

    Then there's the original author to think about. Selling the exclusive rights to your comic book or novel is part of your livelihood. If everyone has the "right" to film your novel, why would they pay you a dime?

     

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  32.  
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    Hamst3r, Aug 21st, 2008 @ 10:32am

    Boo fucking hoo, FOX.

    I'm all for people retaining rights over their material - but in a case like this, it's more like, "You snooze you lose."

    The producer went to FOX in 1991. FOX FAILED to produce the movie. The producer left. Then 17 years later, the same guy goes to Warner Brothers, the owners of DC comics as well, to see if they'd like to make the movie.

    FOX: You lost the rights when you failed to make the movie and then tossed the IP aside. But then, once the company that actually owns the company that made the comic decides they're going to make a movie out of it - you pipe up about it. If the judge has any sense he'll just tell FOX to fuck off, in those words exactly.

     

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