For the past year, Friday the 13th writer Victor Miller has been embroiled in a legal battle with producer Sean Cunningham over the rights to the slasher series, and now a court has ruled in his favor, leaving the future of the franchise and its iconic killer Jason looking very murky indeed.
Miller filed suit last year, aiming to take advantage of a provision in U.S. copyright law that allows authors to reclaim ownership of material 35 years after publication. The producers had been arguing that Miller penned the script as a work-for-hire rather than an independent contractor, and therefore had no rights to the screenplay, characters or events contained within. However, U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill has ruled against this and granted summary judgement to Miller.
As a result of the ruling, Miller may now be able to claim the rights to the Friday the 13th franchise – although this is where things start to get a little complex. Firstly, the ruling would only apply within the United States – meaning that Cunningham and company will retain all rights elsewhere in the world. And secondly – and most importantly – Miller’s claim may not include the adult, hockey-mask wearing version of Jason Voorhees, who wasn’t featured in this form in the original movie and was created for the sequels, with no input from Miller.
As part of Underhill’s ruling, he notes that: “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. 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.”
So, as it stands at the moment, unless the two parties reach some kind of deal we could in theory have a situation whereby we get a series of Miller-produced movies set in or around Camp Crystal Lake but without Jason, distributed in the U.S. only as Friday the 13th films (and blocked from international distribution entirely?), while at the same time we then get a different series of Cunningham-produced movies featuring Jason, but without reference to anything else from the first movie, and distributed as Friday the 13th movies everywhere but the U.S., where they’d presumably just go with something like Jason as a title.
What a mess. Settlement please!
via Flickering Myth