Lawsuit over Friday the 13th rights could tear the franchise apart

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

Friday the 13th Ari Lehman Adrienne King Sean S. Cunningham

The lawsuit over the rights to the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise is getting more intense. According to the 1976 Copyright Act, the original author of a film can gain back the rights to that property after a period of thirty-five years – this is, for example, how James Cameron is going to be in control of the TERMINATOR franchise as of 2019. Victor Miller, screenwriter of the original FRIDAY THE 13TH, has filed a lawsuit seeking to gain the rights to F13, as more than thirty-five years have passed since the film's 1980 release. However, Miller's claim that the rights should belong to him is strongly disputed by the original movie's producer and director Sean S. Cunningham, who has also been overseeing every F13 / Jason movie for the last twenty-five years and is currently trying to get an F13 TV series off the ground.

Cunningham says he controlled all creative decisions on FRIDAY THE 13TH and Miller did his writing as an employee, and thus would have no claim to the rights to the work he did for Cunningham. To win the rights, Miller will have to prove during the upcoming court case that he developed the screenplay without Cunningham's supervision, that everything in that script came from him.

Representing Cunningham and his fellow producers, Bonnie Eskenazi argues that the fact Miller is a member of the Writers Guild of America union and has been receiving employee benefits for his work on FRIDAY THE 13TH proves that he was doing a "work for hire" job and did not craft the story on his own. Representing Miller, Marc Toberoff says his client hasn't been provided with any employment benefits from the producers and only received "relatively minor sums" for his contribution to the film.

Even if Miller does win the rights to the original film, that doesn't necessarily mean that he would win the rights to our beloved hockey masked slasher Jason Voorhees. That version of Jason was not in Miller's screenplay (or in the original movie), and so definitely was not his idea. So what's one possible outcome of this lawsuit?

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the franchise could be ripped apart. Miller could obtain the rights to make more FRIDAY THE 13TH movies in the United States, but wouldn't be able to use the adult, homicidal Jason in them. Meanwhile, more FRIDAY THE 13TH sequels centered on Jason could be made outside of the country, but would be banned from being released in the U.S.

I highly doubt that's what will come of all this, but it's one possibility. As THR puts it, "the judge is free to wield a machete as he wishes in accordance with the law."

Miller is seeking to get the rights to FRIDAY THE 13TH by July of 2018, so we might be watching this play out for a while longer.

Source: THR

About the Author

Cody is a news editor and film critic, focused on the horror arm of, and writes scripts for videos that are released through the JoBlo Originals and JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channels. In his spare time, he's a globe-trotting digital nomad, runs a personal blog called Life Between Frames, and writes novels and screenplays.