“Friday the 13th” Legal Battle Promises To Be Messy

Friday the 13th Legal Battle Over Rights to FranchiseOne of the world’s most popular and long-running horror film series, “Friday the 13th,” and its production companies, Manny Company, Horror Inc. and Georgetown Productions, have found themselves in the midst of a heated legal debate as to who owns the rights to the franchise.

Payments not enough

Sean Cunningham, an American film director, approached Victor Miller, a writer, in 1979 after the successful release of “Halloween,” and asked if he wanted to partner to create a new horror movie—what would ultimately become “Friday the 13th.” Miller was subsequently brought into development of the movie as a work-for-hire employee, according to Hollywood Reporter.

This is where the legal battle hits a gray area. While The Wrap reported that Miller had received residual financial remuneration over the past 36 years for his work on the film, he doesn’t actually own the rights to it. This is because Manny Company protests Miller was only brought on to help write the script after the original idea had been formed.

“Miller had never written a horror screenplay prior to his being hired by Cunningham and was guided in the process, and directly supervised, by Cunningham,” the complaint read. “Accordingly, Miller entered into an employment agreement with the Manny Company pursuant to which Miller wrote a screenplay for the Film as a work for hire.”

Copyright specifics

Miller, the plaintiff, is trying to use a specific copyright law loophole that would allow him to revoke ownership from Manny Company and Horror Inc., ComicBook.com reported. This is a tricky proposition for Miller, who has to successfully argue against the fact that he was hired specifically to write the script, and that he was, in fact, the sole proprietor of the idea behind “Friday the 13th.”

Manny Company and Horror Inc. aren’t the only companies involved in the lawsuit, though, as Georgetown Productions, a predecessor firm to Manny Company, financed the film back in 1980 on the grounds they would be assigned rights to the movie, according to Hollywood Reporter. This makes the case even more difficult for the courts, as the copyright is listed in Georgetown’s name and Miller’s supposed work-for-hire contract actually doesn’t list his status as an employee, the source reported. Still, Manny Company continues to vigorously defend the lawsuit.

“In addition to seeking a declaration of the parties’ respective rights, the Manny Company seeks a determination that Miller has materially breached the Employment Agreement, has slandered Horror’s title in “Friday the 13th,” and has engaged in unfair trade practices,” the complaint read.

Copyright lawsuits are notoriously messy, as, ironically, it’s often difficult for an author to prove ownership of his or her work, as seen by the plight of Miller. The case has yet to move along with legal proceedings, and it’s likely to take a while to do so.

What’s most important in these types of situations are lawyers with an extensive background not only in copyright law but in the entertainment industry as well, to maneuver the legalese brought to court. Therefore, if you have any questions or if you would like to discuss the matter further, please contact me, Anthony Caruso, at 201-806-3364.

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Anthony R. Caruso is a business transactional attorney in New York and New Jersey with experience in structuring, negotiation and completion of legal deals involving business, entrepreneurs, athletes and performers.

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