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Larry Zerner sheds some light on the Friday the 13th lawsuit

08.29.2016by: Cody Hamman

Friday the 13th Betsy Palmer

The 1980s were the glory days of the FRIDAY THE 13TH, as the franchise rolled through the decade on a mostly drama-free train of cinematic success. It was fast and easy, with a FRIDAY THE 13TH coming out nearly every year from 1980 to 1989 (they only missed 1983 and 1987).

After that era, the series switched studios, going from Paramount to New Line Cinema, and ended up back in the hands of the original film's director Sean S. Cunningham, who has worked in a producorial capacity on every FRIDAY / JASON movie since. Several years were missed during this switch, as the first New Line/Cunningham film, JASON GOES TO HELL: THE FINAL FRIDAY, didn't come out until 1993.

Since then, there have been a lot of ups and downs, missed years, and drama. A decade spent developing FREDDY VS. JASON, with JASON X coming along in the midst of that to keep the Jason brand alive. A sequel, FREDDY VS. JASON VS. ASH, that fell apart before the deals could be made. Years passing before we got not a follow-up to FREDDY VS. JASON but a franchise reboot, 2009's FRIDAY THE 13TH, which was a collaboration between Paramount and New Line/Warner Bros. A sequel to the reboot that couldn't get off the ground. Warner Bros. handing the rights back to Paramount for a period of five years. Three years of development hell for the new Paramount FRIDAY. A television series that was rejected by The CW.

Since 1990, we've only gotten four FRIDAY THE 13TH / JASON movies. We don't have to return to the "a movie every year" pace of the '80s, but a little more frequency and consistency would be nice.

Last week, we learned that there's some more drama going on behind the scenes. Victor Miller, screenwriter of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, has filed to terminate his grant of rights and claim ownership of FRIDAY THE 13TH and the elements introduced in his screenplay. Producers/financiers Horror, Inc. and the Manny Company have filed a lawsuit claiming that Miller doesn't have any ownership rights, that he was just working as their employee at the time.

It's a complicated issue to the layman, so Jason Parker of Fridaythe13thFranchise.com sought information from a source who has knowledge of both the FRIDAY THE 13TH series and trademark and copyright law - Larry Zerner, who played the ill-fated prankster who provided slasher Jason Voorhees with his iconic hockey mask in FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III before going on to become an entertainment lawyer.

The first question many may be asking is, "Why would Miller wait this long to seek ownership?" The answer is, he had to. Copyright law states that an author must wait thirty-five years before reclaiming the works they created. Since the FRIDAY THE 13TH copyright was filed in 1980, Miller could only terminate his grant of rights as of 2015. He first filed his Notice of Termination in January of 2016.

Since Miller's contract did not directly state that this was a "work for hire" project for him, Horror, Inc. and Manny will have to prove that Miller was working from a story guideline crafted by Cunningham, with the pair regularly having official business meetings throughout the writing of the script so Cunningham could have creative control over what Miller was doing. If it is proven that Cunningham was a prominent collaborator, Horror, Inc. and Manny will be able to retain ownership of FRIDAY THE 13TH. If not, the rights will revert to Miller. He will be the owner of FRIDAY THE 13TH and its characters, including Jason Voorhees - and those can be quite profitable when licensing those rights out for films and merchandise.

Alternately, Miller could end up settling out of court for a share of the royalties.

How will this lawsuit impact the FRIDAY THE 13TH movie that Paramount recently signed Breck Eisner to direct? If the rights do change hands, it won't happen until July 1, 2018, so the next FRIDAY THE 13TH (which needs to start filming by the end of January 2017 to earn a tax credit) should be in the clear.

Friday the 13th Part III Richard Brooker

Extra Tidbit: Would you like to see Miller get the rights?

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