A rights dispute between 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros over upcoming graphic novel adaptation Watchmen has yet to be resolved.

The film, starring Billy Crudup and Patrick Wilson, is due for release in March 2009, following a lengthy development process.

But Fox, which claims to have bought the intellectual rights to the Alan Moore comic books in the 1980s, has launched a legal bid to prevent Warner Bros from releasing the movie.

In a preliminary ruling US district court judge Gary Allen Feess has declared that Fox does indeed own the US distribution rights to the film, on a copyright basis alone.

He is to make a lengthier judgement prior to the full trial on January 20th but has advised both parties to seek a settlement before then.

Warner Bros has long contended that Fox does not own the rights to Watchmen, an adaptation of Alan Moore's acclaimed graphic novel, heralded by many to be the greatest comic book ever written.

In a statement issued after judge Feess' ruling on Monday, the studio said it "respectfully" but "vigorously" disagrees with his decision.

"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," the statement added.

"We have no plans to move the release date of the film."

In response, Fox said it was "gratified" by the judge's order, which it claimed "speaks for itself".

It is thought the two studios will agree a financial settlement in the dispute though a Fox attorney told Variety the studio plans to push for a delay to Watchmen's release.

Moore's book, published by DC Comics as a monthly limited series in 1986 and 1987, tells of a group of 'superheroes' - without superpowers - whose role in society is called into question in a mid-80s US nearing nuclear war.

30/12/2008 10:11:35