Friday the 13th: Long-Running Lawsuit Finally Earns a Legal Resolution

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of Friday the 13th writer Victor Miller in his lawsuit against the film's director and producer, Sean Cunningham. Miller is seeking to terminate the copyright transfer of the original film's screenplay, which Cunningham had claimed was written as a work made for hire, and not eligible for a termination notice. The Copyright Act of 1976 says that the original author of a work can petition to terminate a transfer of copyright 35 years after original publication, and Friday the 13th writer Victor Miller wants to do just that, so that he can own the property going forward. The timing of termination -- in 2017 -- was likely in part due to rumored movement on a sequel and in part because Miller only had a five-year window, from 2014 until 2019, to file.

Miller is represented by Marc Toberoff, who previously represented the heirs to Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel when they tried to terminate the copyright transfer for the Man of Steel. He is set to launch a similar suit against Marvel on behalf of the Steve Ditko estate, hoping to regain half of the rights to Spider-Man.

The Hollywood Reporter's Eriq Gardner broke the news today that Miller, who had won a previous suit in a District Court, had emerged victorious on his appeal at the Second Circuit. The ruling was based on the finding that "Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay, and is therefore entitled to authorship rights."

You can see a tweet from Gardner below that provides some details.

It's likely Cunningham will appeal, but for the time being, the rights are set to revert to Cunningham. That doesn't mean he owns the film, but rather than he owns the intellectual property of the original screenplay and the characters created therein. Still, he doesn't implicitly own derivative works or spinoff characters, so the adult version of Jason Voorhees who stalked teenagers for decades after the original would not be included in the ruling, but "Jason Voorhees" as a character does, provided he was reinvented sufficiently differently.

The rights transfer is also exclusive to U.S. domestic rights, meaning that even assuming this arrangement holds, Miller will have to come to some kind of agreement with Cunningham and other stakeholders before new films can be produced and distributed worldwide.

Cunningham claims that the screenplay was written as a work made for hire, and that as a result, his production company is legally considered to be the original author (this is the reason Marvel and DC always win these cases against comic book creators). Cunningham wants to prevent Miller from taking over the rights, but also has claimed that Miller has been overpaid royalties in the past, presumably as a result of being identified as a creator or co-creator of the intellectual property.

In July, franchise star Corey Feldman said that he had heard from a lawyer, who claimed to have resolved the rights issues. In Feldman's mind, this clears a path to ignore the previous reboot -- which he calls an "atrocity" -- and make a movie that reunites his version of his character with Jason.

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"I think if we do any reboots, the reboot should be the Tommy vs. Jason reboot," Feldman said over the summer. "Interestingly enough, some guy came up to me at a party, this is true, two weeks ago, and said he has resolved the rights issues. He's a lawyer, and he has resolved the rights issues around Friday the 13th, and that things are working out, and now they'll be able to start making Friday the 13th movies again."

h/t: Bloody Disgusting