The Friday the 13th Copyright Case Could Tear Apart Further Entries in the Franchise

Back in August of last year, we wrote about the legal battle between Victor Miller, the original screenwriter of Friday the 13th, and Horror, Inc., and the Manny Company, who represent Sean Cunningham. The issue is that Miller is trying to use a provision in copyright law that allows authors to terminate a grant of rights and reclaim ownership, giving him Friday the 13th. Meanwhile, Cunningham and Co. are saying that Miller was a work-made-for-hire, which invalidates any right he has to claim ownership in this case.

Today, more news about this issue has come forward and it seems that there might be a compromise in the works between the defendant and the plaintiffs. However, it’s not going to be viewed as a popular one, not by any stretch of the imagination.

Attorney Marc Toberoff, who is representing Miller, has raised the following possibility (per THR): “Whereas Miller will thereby recover the U.S. copyright to his original film treatment and screenplay this does not prevent the continued exploitation by Plaintiffs or their licensees of prior derivative works, including the 1980 film and its many sequels; it solely relates to new derivative works after the effective 2018 termination date. Furthermore, as the U.S. Copyright Act has no extra-territorial application, the foreign rights to Miller’s screenplay remain with Plaintiffs or their licensees.

Alright, that’s all well and good but what does it mean, you ask? In simple terms, it basically means that Miller will retain ownership of the concepts presented in the first film on a domestic basis. That means he owns the Friday the 13th name. However, Cunningham and Co. would retain the rights to Jason, because the infamous version we all know and love was only brought to life in “derivative” works.

Ergo, Miller could make Friday the 13th films in the US that don’t feature Jason while Cunningham could make Jason films outside of the US that do include Voorhees. Is it a compromise? Sure. Is it one that we would like to see come to fruition? While I love the idea of the franchise moving away from Jason, I’d like to see them do it on their own terms and not because of some legal complication.

For now, we’ll just have to wait and see what Paramount can whip up in the midst of this situation. Until then, us horror fans will have to suffer without another Friday the 13th film.

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Jonathan Barkan

Lifelong horror fan with a love of music on the side.

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