Essays

Some Common Sense About the Watchmen Lawsuit

Let’s all calm down. There’s only a few ways this whole legal battle can turn out, and they all work in favor of the fans.
By  · Published on January 11th, 2009

Ever since the Watchmen legal troubles began, I’ve been a sort of paraiah amongst a few colleagues and friends because I’m that rare breed of person who 1) is a giant Watchmen fan and B) thinks that Fox is totally justified in their legal case against Warner Bros. Now, amongst a ton of insanity that flies screaming from websites, television programs, and judicial benches, I’d like to offer some common sense.

Calm down. The movie will get released. On time. And fans won’t have to suffer while Warners does. How can I say this with such confidence? Because there are only three scenarios that can play out – and I offer them to you for your consideration alongside the winners and losers of each:

Scenario One: Fox Wins in Court and Cans Watchmen

If it heads all the way to court, Fox is going to win. The fans can feel that Fox is being a Big Meanie, but Fox is in the legal right. When they win the case, they have two options and one of them is to shelve the film permanently – showing the same sort of interest in it that they’ve previously had in the project. If that happens, Fox will win a moral victory, but high horses don’t pay the rent, and shelved films don’t make money.

Winners: No one.

Losers: Fox, Warner Bros., The Fans

Scenario Two: Fox Wins in Court and Releases Watchmen

Their other option after winning is releasing the film. There’s no telling what effect knowledge of the lawsuit will have on the release, but it’ll probably be negligible. Thus, the film will make a ton of money for Fox after having to do absolutely nothing in the way of fronting funds or putting forth effort. From a business standpoint, it’s basically free money.

Winners: Fox, The Fans

Losers: Warner Bros.

Scenario Three: Fox and Warner Bros. Settle Out of Court

We’re hearing reports that settlement talks are going well – for whatever that’s worth. It’s difficult to know if that’s true or actually matters until we get definite word that a settlement has been reached. Of course, the only added value of settling out of court for Fox is the public relations points it will earn a company that looks a lot like Corporate Darth Vader right now. That faux-appeal to humanity could be worth the money they’d lose by striking a deal – especially considering the road they’ve taken to the court room. An ounce of goodwill can sometimes go further than multi-million dollar ad campaigns. However, striking the deal would lower the amount Fox can make through the film’s release.

Winners: Fox, Warner Bros., The Fans

Losers: No one.

Common Sense Time

Since these are the only logical scenarios that can take place, and considering the winners and losers of each, it seems clear that the film will be released. This year. Probably in March on schedule. So everyone can chill out, because the studios are (above all else) businesses. If the lawyers and representatives for Warner Bros. have any sense, they’ll realize they’ve lost the battle and can still semi-win the war by making back a portion of their film’s revenue above zero percent.

The ball is really in Fox’s court to decide how far to take the power play. Do they go for the jugular or attempt a PR turnaround?

And speaking of turnaround, if you need a refresher as to how we came to this, brush up by checking out this old article about Turnaround – the legal loophole that leads to nebulous legal situations involving copyrights.

The bottom line is that both sides want to win, and the only way they do that is by maximizing profits. The only way to do that is to release the film – and to release it will the buzz for it is at its apex which means sending it to the eyeballs of fans soon.

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