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FRIDAY THE 13TH: New Lawsuit Brings Ownership Of Franchise Into Question

It looks like poor Jason Vorhees is having some serious mommy issues, and not exactly the kind you’d expect after seeing the movies. According to THR, there was a lawsuit filed last Wednesday that is bringing the rightful owners of the Friday the 13th franchise into question.

One of the parties in question is Victor Miller. Miller was one of two writers who came up with the story for the first Friday the 13th film, and was credited as the sole screenwriter of the project. Since then, he’s been credited as a character creator on many of the subsequent sequels and spinoffs. From the sound of it, he hopes to leverage his role in the creation of the character to terminate the grant of rights to the property. In other words, he wants to reclaim ownership for himself, away from the current rights holders, Horror, Inc. and the Manny Company.

Miller seems to be exploiting a specific law that allows an author to reclaim ownership of a property 35 years after its creation.

Here is the headliner of that particular U.S. code:

“In the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of copyright or of any right under a copyright, executed by the author on or after January 1, 1978…”

Okay, seems legit enough, right? 

Not quite. That first part seems to be the sticking point: In the case of any other work other than a work for hire.”

This means that if Miller had been the author that took the initiative on Friday the 13th, and if he’d been the one to sell the property to the studio in question, he’d be entitled to that property in 2018 (which is when the rights would revert back to him should this go through). 

But Horror, Inc. and Manny Company aren’t taking this lightly, and are stating that the development and screenplay for Friday the 13th was done as a work for hire from Georgetown Productions, a predecessor company of the plaintiff.

Here’s what they had to say in response to the lawsuit:

“Miller had never written a horror screenplay prior to his being hired by [Friday the 13th director and co-story creator Sean] Cunningham and was guided in the process, and directly supervised, by Cunningham. Accordingly, Miller entered into an employment agreement with the Manny Company pursuant to which Miller wrote a screenplay for the Film as a work for hire (the ‘Screenplay’).”

I suppose at this point it matters if the files for said employment were kept. If so — and if it’s clearly stated in the agreement that the project was a work for hire — this seems like an open and shut case. If not, it’s a wonder which way this ruling will swing. Apparently, the odds don’t appear to be in Manny Company’s favor, as the agreement in question may have been too vague on the relationship.

Speaking with a Friday the 13th fansite, entertainment lawyer Larry Zerner stated the following (as summarized by the site):

“Larry Zerner has reviewed Victor Miller’s original contract for writing Friday The 13th and he mentioned to me that it is not explicitly stated that Victor was a “writer-for-hire” or employed by Manny Company. In this case, one could view Miller as an independent contractor and fully in his right to claim the copyright of Friday The 13th. If this is found to be true by the court, then it is the responsibility of Horror Inc. to prove that Victor Miller, although credited as the sole writer of the film, was not the only creative behind designing the script and story and that Sean Cunningham was indeed the driving force in shaping the story and ultimately the script.”

I, for one, wonder if they’ll be getting in touch with Sean Cunningham for this one, just to see what the story credit he received was actually for. Though, at the end of the day, should Cunningham speak out in favor of Miller, it’s a wonder if that’ll be enough to hold up in court.

So while the odds don’t appear to be in favor of the plaintiffs, should Manny Company and Horror, Inc. come out on top, it sounds like they’ll be seeking compensation for further damages.

“As a result of Miller’s improper actions, a cloud has been placed on Horror’s rights in and to the popular and lucrative Friday the 13th movie franchise and has caused, and will continue to cause, both Horror and the Manny Company significant damages. In addition to seeking a declaration of the parties’ respective rights, the Manny Company seeks a determination that Miller has materially breached the Employment Agreement, has slandered Horror’s title in Friday the 13th, and has engaged in unfair trade practices.”

It’ll definitely be interesting to see how this one shakes out, and what the future of this franchise will hold. And what does this mean for the upcoming film from Breck Eisner? This is, after all, one of those properties that tends to sprout up every decade, and is no doubt a very valuable asset to anyone.

What do you make of all this? Should Miller reclaim these rights, or does it sound like he in a work for hire agreement? Let us know your thoughts down below!

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