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Friday the 13th lawsuit: Judge rules in favor of writer Victor Miller

Friday the 13th Ari Lehman Sean S. Cunningham

For over two years, fans of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise have been waiting to hear the outcome of the legal battle being fought between the original film's screenwriter Victor Miller and producer Sean S. Cunningham over the U.S. rights to the series. If Miller could prove that everything in the script was created by him, as he claimed, then U.S. copyright law would allow him to take ownership of the film now that more than 35 years have passed since its release. But if Cunningham could prove that Miller had only written what he was hired and told to write, as he claimed, then the F13 rights would remain in his hands.

While the court has been trying to figure this case out, development of any further FRIDAY THE 13TH films has been put on hold and recently released F13 games even had to stop updating their contact. FRIDAY THE 13TH has been in limbo.

Now a ruling has been made, and things have gotten a bit more complicated for the F13 franchise. 

The court has ruled in the favor of Victor Miller, granting him the copyright of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH in the United States. If this ruling goes through as is, the only thing in that first film that Miller won't hold the copyright to is the scene involving a motorcycle cop, since that was an addition to the script made by another screenwriter.

This means that Miller would be fully within his rights to pursue making a sequel to FRIDAY THE 13TH - but the issue with that is, he only has the rights to follow up on what was in that original film, and anything he makes could only be distributed within the United States, since he would only hold the copyright in the U.S. And where would that leave the character of Jason Voorhees, who was only presented as a drowning child in flashbacks (and then pops out of the water to grab the heroine at the end) within the original FRIDAY THE 13TH? The court declined to rule on whether or not Miller would be allowed to use the adult slasher version of Jason that appeared in the sequels: 

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 Inc. 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."

What this really means is that Miller and Cunningham are going to have to continue working out their legal issues with each other, whether that involves Cunningham appealing this ruling or the two getting together to make a deal. It's not likely any studio is going to want to work with Miller to make a potentially Jason-less FRIDAY THE 13TH movie that can only be released in the United States. To definitely get an adult, murderous Jason in the picture and to ensure worldwide distribution, Miller would have to make an agreement with Cunningham. To avoid dealing with Miller, Cunningham will have to hope that another judge will rule in his favor in another round of this copyright dispute.

This issue isn't settled yet. FRIDAY THE 13TH might stilll remain in limbo even after this initial ruling.
 

Source: THRLarry Zerner

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