It certainly has been an eventful month for the seemingly cursed franchise Friday the 13th. With a Jason Vorhees statue being removed from the bottom of an Arizona Lake, and Friday the 13th: The Game making it onto PS Plus as a free download, Jason has been plastered on headlines across the internet. However, one of the most important news bulletins for our famed hockey mask murderer has finally surfaced after roughly 2 years of anticipation.
In 2016, a lawsuit between the franchises’ original screenplay writer Victor Miller and director/writer Sean Cunningham (along with Horror Inc.) surfaced on whether or not Miller was entitled to payment from the prosperous franchise after its first film: Friday the 13th. The legal bloodbath grew ugly with suspicion of Cunningham perjuring himself before his deposition testimony. As a result, plans for a sequel to the 2009 Friday the 13th have been suspended, and any additional content for Friday the 13th: The Game has been cancelled.
Recently, THR reported that a ruling was issued which could have us see an end to the legal dispute.
As we’ve covered, the case revolved around Miller wanting to claim what he is financially owed from the Friday the 13th franchise–having written the first film’s script–and is credited as a character writer for the sequel films. Cunningham and Co. felt that since Miller wrote the first script as work-for-hire under the WGA (Writers Guild of America), then the creative properties of the entire Friday the 13th franchise belong to the company/Cunningham (Horror Inc.).
While both sides wanted the judge to motion for a summary in October of 2017, this particular section of copyright law is relatively new in courts; consequently, U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill did not have much to go off of when issuing a summary of the ruling for the rights over Friday the 13th.
Ultimately, the judge’s summary came down to the amount of evidence that proved Cunningham’s influence and control over Miller’s creative work with Friday the 13th. Cunningham is accredited as a writer, worked with Miller on the film, and both were under the WGA; however, when Miller drafted the characters and script, there’s no tangible/concrete proof outside of allegation that Cunningham possessed greater influence over the initial creation and creative direction of Friday the 13th. Miller was paid to work with Cunningham and to submit the script for the company, but as it stands the first Friday the 13th film is creatively and legally his work.[The full unabridged legal document and statement]
The summary determines victory to Miller over entitlement to the script and rights of Friday the 13th in the United States. In contrast, Cunningham and Horror Inc. have legal control outside of the states, where the copyright law does not have any legal domain.
A settlement can be arranged at this point, or Cunningham can look to put forth an appeal. Underhill’s summary may pressure Cunningham to settle, but the judge did mention an aspect of the dispute which Cunningham and the producers will want to continue on with the case and make an appeal.
While Miller did in fact write the first franchise installment Friday the 13th, it is not certain if he directly influenced the characters in the sequels or not, specifically Jason Vorhees. To clarify, I don’t mean the deformed child who snags Adrienne King from the canoe at the end of the first film, but Jason Vorhees as we know him today. Jason the icon, as far as surface level and legal evaluations go, is the hockey mask wearing murderer we see in a plethora of films after the first one. Whether Miller directly influenced or intended to create the adult Jason prior to the first script is a question the court is not equipped to answer at this time. Cunningham and Horror Inc. may have enough legal ground to go for an appeal and contest that they are the sole creative owners of the everything after Friday the 13th.
This is to say, while the first round of the legal battles is settled in favor of Miller, and may set a precedent for the rest of the case, the franchise is not exactly out of the woods yet. Still, we can hope that Cunningham and Horror Inc. choose to not drag out the battle any longer and settle. I would think it’d be worth inquiring if the “Jason” from Part 5 would count as one of the sequel Jasons?
Do you think that Cunningham should have the sole rights to the entire franchise, or is Miller entitled to payment for writing the script that started it all? Comment below and tell us what you think! Regardless, we’ll most likely be waiting a while for an update, but we’ll keep you posted as this story develops!
In the mean time, if you’re curious about whether the previously mentioned Friday the 13th game is worth downloading or not, you can read our review on it! If you’d rather check out some bad-ass Friday the 13th art, take a look at a phenomenal bloodbath of an art piece made by JJ Harrison!