‘Friday the 13th’ Writer Wins Appeal in Copyright Termination Case

Victor Miller will reclaim the domestic rights to the franchise from the film’s producer and director Sean S. Cunningham

Friday the 13th 1980
Paramount Pictures

A copyright termination for the “Friday the 13th” horror film has been awarded by a judge to the film’s screenwriter, which will turn over domestic rights of the franchise to writer Victor Miller from the film’s producer and director Sean S. Cunningham.

More than 40 years after the release of the slasher horror movie “Friday the 13th” in 1980, Victor Miller in 2016 gave notice to the producer Cunningham and to the production company Manny, Inc. that he would be terminating the copyright to the film.

It’s something that’s becoming a trend among popular films from the late ’70s and early ’80s when copyright law changed and windows are opening in which the original screenwriters can try to reclaim copyright rights to the franchises from studios or producers that have now turned them into cash cows.

In the case of “Friday the 13th,” Cunningham tried to argue that Miller was an employee for the production company at the time of writing the film and that his work was “made for hire.” A judge in the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals rejected that argument, according to documents obtained by TheWrap, and said that Miller was in fact an independent contractor, which gave him authorship rights.

In 2018, a judge had previously said that it was not a work made for hire, prompting the appeal. The producers argued based on Miller’s membership with the Writer’s Guild (WGA) that the producers were participating in the guild’s collective bargaining agreement, so that he should be deemed an employee and not have grounds to terminate the film’s copyright. But that argument was rejected in this latest appeal.

Cunningham however still retains the international rights to the “Friday the 13th” franchise and importantly to the intellectual property rights to the Jason Voorhees character, the hockey goalie mask-wearing killer who did not appear with his signature look until the film’s sequels.

The original “Friday the 13th” from 1980 was made on a budget of $550,000 and grossed $39.7 million at the box office.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.