“Friday the 13th” screenwriter Victor Miller has prevailed in a legal battle over the franchise. Miller aimed to take advantage of a provision of copyright law that allows authors to terminate a grant of rights and reclaim ownership 35 years after publishing.
The film’s producers alleged that Miller wrote “Friday the 13th” as a work-made-for-hire after film series producer Sean Cunningham came up with an idea to capitalize on the success of the then-recently released horror film “Halloween”. They asserted that Miller’s termination notice was ineffective.
Miller’s attorney Marc Toberoff argued that while the screenplay was clearly commissioned as part of a motion picture, there never was any writing instrument as required by law spelling out the screenplay was a work-made-for-hire.
U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill has now granted summary judgment in favor of Miller and against the producers, saying the screenplay wasn’t a work for hire, not prepared within scope of employment, and that labor law doesn’t require holding that screenwriter was an employee. Instead, Miller was an independent contractor.
The decision has been pending for almost a year now, and the uncertainty over ownership has reportedly interfered with new sequels being made as well as tie-in works like video games. Miller’s victory suggests he will control rights inside the United States while producers control rights outside the domestic market where termination recapture isn’t applied.
If no settlement occurs and any appeal is unsuccessful, there could be future legal battles over trademarks and character use – but Underhill says the producers “may be able to stake a claim” to hold an independent copyright for the adult Jason character which is very different to the boy of Miller’s screenplay.
Source: THR Esq