With another Friday the 13th ahead of us, it’s only natural that we’re talking about the Friday the 13th franchisee. As most horror fans know by now, the movie franchise has been held up for several years in a legal battle between Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller and Friday the 13th director Sean Cunninghamwith the rights currently divided between them.
Here’s a little backstory/summary as it gets a little confusing…
Since a judge in 2018 ruled that Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller is the sole owner of the original screenplay (at least in the US), Friday Director Sean Cunningham has been working to reverse the decision. The argument continues that Miller wrote the screenplay as a “work for hire” and therefore should never have been given the rights to the screenplay. While the trial judge had ruled that after all these years, the rights go to Miller under the Copyright Act’s termination right, which allows authors to reclaim the rights to work they have signed with a company, hoped Cunningham and Horror Inc. that the Second Circuit Court would end up appealing to reverse that decision.
The Second Circuit was tasked with deciding whether Miller would retain the rights to the… Friday scenario, as decided in 2018, or if they were to return to Cunningham/Horror Inc. As we learned last year, Miller won that copyright termination appeal. In other words, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s earlier decision, dismissing the argument, concluding that “Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay and is therefore entitled to copyright.” That is why an injunction has been awarded to Miller.
This was a huge next step in the process, but it certainly doesn’t mean Miller is now free to take the franchise and do whatever he wants with it. For now, until various behind-the-scenes deals are worked out, which will likely be a long time – for starters, owning the original screenplay doesn’t mean owning the character of adult Jason Voorhees as we know him, and having Miller’s ownership of the work only covers domestic rights – the franchise remains dormant. But what can Miller and his team do with what they currently own?
A new report from CNN this afternoon digs into some of those details, with Miller’s legal team talking for the first time about what they can — and could very well — try to do.
Marc Toberoff, a Malibu copyright attorney representing Victor Miller, told CNN: “Now we can license a remake, prequel or even sequels…provided such movies don’t use additional copyrighted elements† In other words, Miller can only use elements from the ORIGINAL Friday the 13th movie, which of course doesn’t include the adult Jason Voorhees.
That means Miller can’t use the iconic hockey mask either, even if it’s worn by another character, and we’ve learned he doesn’t really own the title Friday the 13th one of both†
†We can license television series, explore Crystal Lake and how Jason became who he is – think ‘Twin Peaks’ or ‘Bates Motel’muses Toberoff, throwing away possible ideas.
In other words, Miller only has the young Jason Voorhees at his disposal, so he could theoretically work with filmmakers on a project featuring Jason’s early years – before the mask. Presumably, he could also use the character of Mrs. Pamela Voorhees, the killer in the original film.
But the other big problem here is that Miller only has rights to the screenplay in the United States, which means he can’t make a movie with worldwide distribution.
“Miller has to convince a studio to make this thing that can only be distributed in the US,” says entertainment lawyer/Friday the 13th part 3 star Larry Zerner tells CNN. “We can have this theoretical argument that you can make a movie that doesn’t infringe on someone else’s rights, but is anyone seriously going to do that without global rights? I doubt it.”
As for what Sean Cunningham can do without Victor Miller, it looks like he can’t use Jason Voorhees without Miller’s permission, which kind of ties his hands.
“I think it’s definitely coming back,” Cunningham told CNN. “But I can’t tell you it’s coming back this year or next year. Will Jason be back in theaters? Right now it’s 50-50†
For now, the two sides are still at odds with each other, and the only way to move forward is to work something out. We keep waiting. Stay tuned for more.