It’s been no secret for quite some time that the biggest issue holding up the Friday the 13th franchise is a pending lawsuit filed by director Sean Cunningham and his Horror Inc. against Victor Miller, writer of the original film. We’ve been writing about the Sean Cunningham vs. Victor Miller lawsuit for a while now, but the reality is that none of us are legal experts. This has made the developing story a tough one for us to cover, because what the hell do we know? Thankfully, Friday the 13th: Part III star Larry “Shelly” Zerner recently broke down the whole thing for us. Why Zerner, you ask? Well, as it turns out, he’s now an entertainment lawyer.
In a series of tweets recently, Zerner made sense of the messy battle…
“I’ve seen a lot of people dragging Victor [Miller] online as if this is his fault. It’s not,” Zerner began. “The Copyright Act includes a provision that states that an author can terminate any transfer he or she has made after 35 years. Congress added this provision to allow creators (writers, songwriters, etc.) who sold their rights cheap to have a second chance. In the case of Victor Miller, he was originally paid about $9,500 for the original Friday the 13th script, which turned into 12 movies, a very successful video game and lots of Jason Voorhees merchandise. This franchise Victor helped create made hundreds of millions of $$$.”
Zerner continued, “But Victor was not entitled to any of that money. Victor did what the Copyright Act allows him to do, he sent a notice of termination to Sean [Cunningham], giving Sean two years notice of the termination (which would occur in June 2018). The way it usually works in these cases is that the producer and the terminating writer will then have the two year period to work out a deal on how the money will be split on future projects (the termination does not affect movies already completed).”
“But Sean and Victor would need to make a deal because the termination only affects the Friday the 13th U.S. rights. Because of the quirks of copyright law, even after termination, Sean would still own the rights outside the U.S. But instead of making a deal, Sean sued Victor, claiming that the agreement that Victor signed in 1979 is not terminable. And the fact is that this is a very new area of law, so there is not a lot of guidance for judges on who is right. Both sides have very capable lawyers who are arguing the case. One of the problems is that although both sides argued motions for summary judgment last October, the judge in the case still hasn’t ruled. This has really slowed things down.”
Now that we’ve brushed you up on all that, we’ve got a HUGE update tonight, via THR. The site reports, “In a potentially big decision, Friday the 13th screenwriter Victor Miller has prevailed in a legal battle that will help determine the future fate of the franchise.”
“U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill has now granted summary judgment in favor of Miller and against the producers. Unfortunately, his full opinion is under wraps at the moment so it’s impossible to fully analyze the implications of the determination both for the Friday the 13th franchise as well as other screenwriters who may have written works in the early 1980s and may now have hopes of clawing back rights from producers. 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 derivative works like video games.”
“Miller’s victory also holds the prospect that he will control rights inside the United States while producers control rights outside the domestic market where termination recapture isn’t applied. There also could be fussing over trademarks as well as the character of “Jason.” According to the producers, Miller created a “Jason” character who died as a young boy while it was sequels that presented “Jason” as a living adult monster.”
Once again, our man Larry Zerner is here to make things a bit more clear. He tweeted tonight, “Victor Miller wins round one of the Friday the 13th lawsuit! Sean will certainly appeal but this could put pressure on Sean to settle.”
For now, this is very much still a developing story. But for better or worse, things are finally happening on the Friday the 13th front. And we hope to have more real soon.
Victor Miller wins round one of the Friday the 13th lawsuit! Sean will certainly appeal but this could put pressure on Sean to settle. https://t.co/Xhtp5ZRH00
— Larry Zerner (@Zernerlaw) September 28, 2018