'Friday the 13th' Screenwriter Wins Legal Battle to Regain the Rights

Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller has won his court battle over the copyrights to the cult-classic horror film.

In a report from The Hollywood Reporter, the U.S. District Court has ruled that, despite the original film's director Sean Cunningham and other producers' claims that the film had been written as a "work-made-for-hire", that is not the case and domestic rights to the property belong to Miller.

"I hold that Miller did not prepare the screenplay as a work for hire and that Miller's Second Termination Notice validly terminated Horror's rights to the copyright in the screenplay to Friday the 13th," U.S. District Court Judge Stephan Underhill write in his summary judgment.

The termination notice he refers to is a provision in copyright law that allows authors to terminate rights they may have granted on projects and reclaim ownership 35 years after publication. The rule applies only to authors and, under the rule, work-made-for-hire is considered to be authored by producers, which would make ineligible for termination.

The decision brings to an end the lawsuit on this particular issue of ownership which had been pending for almost a year now and reportedly interfered with new sequels and other derivative works being made in connection with the Friday the 13th franchise. However, even with Miller being granted the rights, the case isn't as neatly resolved as one might think. This specific rule pertains only to domestic rights. The Second Termination Notice only applies to domestic rights.

The film's producers maintain their control over rights outside of the domestic market and it's not just those rights that are a bit of a sticking point. Ownership of the character "Jason" is also at question. Underhill declined to rule on the copyright of "Jason", noting that there may be enough for the producers to claim that Miller's "Jason" character and the character presented in the sequel are distinctly different.

"I also decline to analyze the extent to which Miller can claim copyright in the monstrous 'Jason' figure present in sequels to the original film," Underhill wrote. "Horror may very well be able to argue that the Jason character present in later films is distinct from the Jason character briefly present in the first film, and Horror or other participants may be able to stake a claim to have added sufficient independently copyrightable material to Jason in the sequels to hold independent copyright in the adult Jason character. That question is not properly before the court in this case, however."


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