‘Friday the 13th’ Screenwriter, Producers Tussle Over Rights to Movie in New Lawsuit

Victor Miller, who wrote the 1980 horror classic, seeks to terminate a copyright grant made in 1979

The screenwriter of the iconic 1980 horror film “Friday the 13th” is seeking to reclaim the rights to the movie. On Wednesday, the film’s producers fired back with a lawsuit in a Connecticut federal court, calling writer Victor Miller’s actions “a transparently disingenuous money grab.”

Earlier this year — 36 years after the movie hit theaters — screenwriter Miller sent out termination notices, seeking to claim the rights to the movie he wrote as a work-for-hire.

This week, current rights holder Horror Inc., along with the Manny Company — which hired and signed an employment agreement with Miller — filed their suit, claiming that Miller’s actions placed a “cloud” over Horror’s title to the movie and have caused and will continue to cause “significant damages.”

According to the complaint, Miller had been a previous collaborator of Manny founder Sean Cunningham, who recruited Miller to write a screenplay following the box office success of “Halloween.” In 1979, Miller agreed to write the script under an employment agreement, from which he has received residual payments over the last 36 years.

As part of that deal, he relinquished any rights to the film to Manny, which subsequently assigned its rights to Horror’s predecessor, Georgetown Productions, in exchange for Georgetown fully financing the film, which went on to be a huge hit.

“Since the initial release of the Film in 1980, Horror has invested substantial time, money and effort developing and growing this singular independent horror film into one of the most successful and iconic film franchises of all time,” the complaint reads. “Miller’s attempt to re-characterize his initial work for hire efforts as an independent project 36 years after the fact is nothing more than a transparently disingenuous money grab.”

The complaint also plays up Cunningham’s and Georgetown principal Phil Scuderi’s roles in shaping and editing the script.

“Beginning in mid-August 1979 and throughout the pre-production and production process, Scuderi, on behalf of Georgetown, provided extensive notes, mark-ups and ideas which were incorporated into the final shooting script and Film itself — many of which never appeared in any drafts of the Screenplay written by Miller,” the complaint reads.

Miller is seeking to reclaim the rights, effective June 2018, under title 17, section 203 of the United States Code, which allows termination of copyright grants made after 1978 effected in a five-year window beginning 35 years after the grant was made. However, the first sentence of that section states that the conditions for termination apply “in the case of any work other than a work made for hire” — which is what the plaintiffs claim Miller’s was.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.