It looks like the long-running legal battle over the rights to Friday the 13th is finally coming to an end. For years, the future of the slasher movie series has been bleak with the rights to Jason Voorhees and the original movie under contention. On Thursday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals sided with original screenwriter Victor Miller, and now he’s set to reclaim the domestic rights to Friday the 13th.
This decision has been a long time coming. After penning the script for the first Friday the 13th movie over four decades ago, Miller had sought to reclaim the rights to his work due to a provision in copyright law that allows original authors to do so after a statutory amount of time. Original movie producer Sean S. Cunningham and Horror Inc., the then-rights holders, sued Miller to prevent him from getting the rights.
In September 2018, Victor Miller won the rights battle against Cunningham, but the decision was promptly appealed. This put the Friday the 13th series on ice for the foreseeable future, and the pandemic only further delayed a final ruling from being made. Now, more than two years after that previous ruling, Miller has come out on top with this latest development. The 2nd Circuit rejected Cunningham’s counter-claim that Miller was an independent contractor who wrote the screenplay and wouldn’t be entitled to the authorship rights.
“The Copyright Act and the NLRA serve altogether different purposes and focus on different economic sectors,” writes Circuit Judge Susan Carney in the decision. “As the Supreme Court explored extensively in Reid, section 101 of the Copyright Act uses a more restrictive definition of employment, one aimed at limiting the contours of the work-for-hire determination and protecting authors-the individual creators of works whose foundational value the Constitution itself recognizes and Congress has expounded upon.”
She added, “In the labor and employment law context, in contrast, the concept of employment is broader, adopting a more sweeping approach suitable to serve workers and their collective bargaining interests and establishing rights (in the NLRA), their safety rights (in the Occupational Safety and Health Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 651, et seq.), and pay rights (in the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201, et seq.), for example… That labor law was determined to offer labor protections to independent writers does not have to reduce the protections provided to authors under the Copyright Act.”
It’s reportedly possibly that Cunningham and Horror Inc. could seek a rehearing before a fuller panel at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. If that doesn’t go through, the next step would be to petition to the Supreme Court to hear the case. Because Miller’s rights only pertain to the original Friday the 13th, it doesn’t include the monstrous “adult” version of Jason Voorhees that shows up in the sequels, and Cunningham still owns the foreign rights.
In any case, this is a major development and good news for fans wanting to see this legal battle come to an end once and for all. With two victories in the battle for Victor Miller, let’s hope Sean Cunningham will cut his losses at this point and just move forward with the series. There’s so much interest in a new Friday the 13th movie that everyone involved is only going to make more money if these plans can finally go forward. This news comes to us from The Hollywood Reporter.