A little over three years since a U.S. District Court ruled in favor of Victor Miller and declared that the Friday the 13th (1980) screenwriter was the legal rights holder and owner to the series, a second judgement recently handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals has solidified his claim to the iconic horror icon.
The legal battle surrounding Jason and his bloody exploits began in 2016, when similar to recent moves made by various comic book creators against Marvel, Miller issued a copyright termination notice to long-time franchise producer and director of the original film, Sean S. Cunningham.
In turn, Cunningham counter-sued Miller, claiming that Miller was under a ‘work for hire’ contract at the time and thus they should retain the rights to his creation.
Ultimately, in 2018, a judge ruled the case in favor of Miller, finding that he was actually employed as an independent contractor, and thus the studios had no claim over his creation – at least in the United States.
Refusing to back down, Cunningham and the studios escalated the issue to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, hoping that they would win out in the appellate stage of the proceedings.
However, it now appears that Miller has once again emerged victorious.
According to documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter’s Eriq Gardner, though the studios attempted to argue that “Miller’s membership in the Writer’s Guild of America, East, Inc. (WGA),” as well his “participation in the producers’ collective bargaining agreement with the WGA in the same period” classified him as an employee, the court strongly rejected their arguments.
“We reject that argument and conclude that Miller was an independent contractor when he wrote the screenplay and is therefore entitled to authorship rights,” wrote Circuit Judge Susan Carney. “Accordingly, the notice of termination that he gave under section 203 is effective as to [now-defunct production company Manny, Inc., through whom Miller was involved with the first film] and its successors.”
In conclusion to her judgement, Judge Carney asserted, “We therefore AFFIRM the District Court’s order granting summary judgement to Miller.”
Though this ruling marks a major victory for Miller, he’s not quite out of the woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake quite yet.
As noted by Gardner, Cunningham could still request a rehearing of the case by the 2nd circuit before a fuller panel, and failing that, even potentially escalate it to the Supreme Court.
Furthermore, Cunningham still retains the non exclusive foreign rights and the intellectual property borne from the numerous sequels to Friday the 13th, which could lead both parties to come to some sort of mutually beneficial agreement.
What do you make of Miller’s legal victory? Let us know your thoughts on social media or in the comments down below!