The Am Law Daily loves to mix pop culture and law, and Hollywood spent the holiday season giving us a pile of litigation to chew on.
• First, a federal judge in California made a surprise ruling on the copyright dispute (one we’ve been following obsessively for months) between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox over which studio owns the rights to “Watchmen,” the movie (scheduled for release by Warner on March 6) based on the classic Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons graphic novel.
On Christmas Eve, Judge Gary Feess of U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dealt a huge blow to Warner’s high-powered team from Glaser, Weil, Fink, Jacobs & Shapiro and Irell & Manella (the studio brought in the latter firm, led by former Warner adversary Steven Marenberg, when the case started going Fox’s way).
As explained here by the Wall Street Journal, Feess ruled that Fox still has the right to distribute the film; Warner had claimed Fox had given up all rights to the film in a convoluted set of deals with independent producer Lawrence Gordon (of “Die Hard” fame) in the early 1990s. Feess had previously scheduled a trial for January 20, but with the release date looming, he urged the two sides to find some sort of settlement as soon as possible.
What this means for “Watchmen,” one of the most eagerly anticipated superhero movies ever, is unclear. Hollywood types say the most likely outcome is for Warner to cut some sort of deal with Fox and stick to the March 6 release date. Some “Watchmen” fans, though, are pessimistic and are already calling for a retaliatory boycott of Fox’s major upcoming comic book release, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” based on the iconic member of the X-Men. Either way, Feess’s ruling is a coup for Fox’s lawyers at Alston & Bird.
• Warner is also on the defensive thanks to a Christmas Eve complaint filed by one of the producers of “Gilmore Girls” (a favorite of the Am Law Daily’s mom). In his complaint, which seeks “tens of millions” from WB, producer Gavin Polone accuses Warner of concealing profits the show made in order to get out of payments Polone says he’s entitled to under a profit-sharing agreement, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
One news nugget our readers will be especially interested in: Polone’s lead attorney is Eric George, name partner in the Los Angeles firm until recently known as Dreier Stein Kahan Browne Woods George, the West Coast affiliate of the now-defunct Dreier LLP. George did not return a message seeking comment, but it’s good to know the firm (which has removed Marc Dreier’s name from its title) is still getting solid work.
• Meanwhile, Warner Bros. is playing a little offense too. The studio’s television unit is the plaintiff in another high-profile case, this one a $49 million lawsuit filed late Tuesday against CBS over revenue from the sitcom “Two and a Half Men.”
The suit, filed by John Spiegel of Munger, Tolles & Olson, says CBS owes Warner the money as part of an agreement under which the former promised the latter additional fees if the show achieved certain ratings. The Hollywood Reporter says such lawsuits between studios and networks are rare (the parties usually prefer arbitration), and that this one is especially unusual since the two companies are partners in the CW Television Network. Spiegel did not immediately return a call seeking comment.