By now most die-hard horror fans are familiar with the pending lawsuit filed concerning rights to the Friday the 13th brand. Basically, original screenwriter, Victor Miller, is looking for a piece of the pie concerning future Friday the 13th content. On the other side is Sean S. Cunningham, the director of the original film, and the companies Horror Inc., and the Manny Company. Cunningham et. al. claim that Miller was hired by the Manny Company for the purpose of writing the script, and Miller claims to basically have written the script as an independent contractor of sorts. In the case of the former, the rights would reside with the presiding company, and in the latter, the rights would preside with the person himself.
Horror fans have historically been among the most opinionated group of folks on social media, and there is no shortage of commentary regarding the lawsuit. Curiously, though, in all that I have read I have seen no one look at it with a background in law. Until now. And that person is Larry Zerner. Yes, that Larry Zerner, who gave Jason his now infamous hockey mask as ‘Shelly’ in Friday the 13th Part 3. Zerner now works (convenient enough) as an entertainment attorney. In short, this is his area of expertise. Here is a snippet of what Zerner had to say:
I’ve seen a lot of people dragging Victor [Miller] online as if this is his fault. It’s not,. 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 $$$.
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. I’m sure that everyone involved believed that there would be a trial long before the termination occurred.
I know it’s frustrating for the fans who want new movies and more content. But to blame it all on Victor is unfair.
Thus far I have withheld my own commentary on this issue, partly due to the fact that there was just too much I didn’t understand prior to Zerner’s clarifications, but Zerner basically confirmed my suspicions. While the real loser in all this may well end up being the fans of the franchise if no new content is created, to paint Miller as the unequivocal villain may be a tad rushed, and unfair. In any event, I sincerely hope some decision is reached that is fair to both sides, and also allows us fans to the opportunity to keep supporting the franchise we love so much.
For the rest of Zerner’s remarks, check the thread below:
Thread: With the announcement by @Friday13thGame that they won’t be adding new content to the game because of the ongoing lawsuit between Sean Cunningham and Victor Miller, I’ve seen a lot of people dragging Victor online as if this is his fault. It’s not. 1/
— Larry Zerner (@Zernerlaw) June 13, 2018