The trials and tribulations of the Friday the 13th franchise continue. Earlier this year, Paramount abandoned plans for their Friday the 13th franchise reboot, which ran into one creative snag after the next with a series of new concepts and new teams that never made it in front of the camera. While that seemed to put the kibosh on a new Jason Voorhees pic for the time being, there’s new rights drama afoot that could utterly dismantle the franchise as we know it for good.
A legal battle is ongoing between producer Sean Cunningham and screenwriter Victor Miller, both of whom claim to own the rights to Friday the 13th. As always in legal proceedings, nothing’s nearly that cut and dry.
Miller is looking to invoke a provision in copyright law (1976 Copyright Act), which allows authors to reclaim ownership by terminating the grant of rights. On the other side, Cunningham and Co. argue that Miller wrote Friday the 13th as work-for-hire so he has no rights to the property to begin with. To further complicate things, Cunningham claims that Friday the 13th was his idea to begin with, and that without a doubt, Miller has no rights to the hockey mask-clad horror icon of Jason Voorhees, who only properly emerged in the sequels. Whatta mess.
There are a lot of other specifics and details of both sides claims, all of which are well chronicled in a writeup over at The Hollywood Reporter, but the end result is that we could end up with a case of split rights that tears apart the franchise.
Here’s the suggestion by Miller’s attorney, Marc Toberoff (per the THR report), as to how the rights could break down.
“Whereas Miller will thereby recover the U.S. copyright to his original film treatment and screenplay this does not prevent the continued exploitation by Plaintiffs or their licensees of prior derivative works, including the 1980 film and its many sequels; it solely relates to new derivative works after the effective 2018 termination date,” writes the attorney. “Furthermore, as the U.S. Copyright Act has no extra-territorial application, the foreign rights to Miller’s screenplay remain with Plaintiffs or their licensees.”
Essentially, Miller could end up with the domestic rights to the first film, as well as the Friday the 13th title, while Cunningham and would walk away with the character of Jason and other concepts introduced in the sequels. But it also means that any film using the character of Jason Voorhees could be barred from release in the U.S. There’s no telling how the case will shake out at this point, and there’s an argument to be made that stepping back from the Jason mythology could be the best thing for the Friday the 13th franchise, but until the judge calls his verdict, there’s a real possibility that we may never see a Friday the 13th film as we know it again.