Because of the 1976 US Copyright Act, artists have the ability to challenge for the rights to work they may have sold off after 35 years. As artists typically have no leverage when initially licensing their property to big money studios, this provision gives them a second chance to negotiate for a better deal after fully measuring the scope of the work’s success. At the time, Miller was only paid around $10000 for his Friday the 13th screenplay, yet the film went on to gross almost $40 million at the box office (or $130 million in 2018 dollars).
Understandably feeling he was unfairly compensated, Miller filed to terminate the grant of rights to his script back in 2016. However, rather than negotiate a new deal with him, the production companies holding the rights — Horror Inc. and the Manny Company — chose to sue Miller instead. Something that seems to be lost in the translation in the complaints online is that Miller is actually the defendant in this case.
The entire lawsuit boils down to a few simple facts –
- Miller is entitled to reclaim the rights if he was a freelance writer that wrote the film “on spec,” as he claims. He claims that he penned the first draft independently of everyone and with no contract or deal in place, if this is the case and the screenplay is entirely his own Mr.Miller is well within his rights to make a claim.
- On the other side, the production companies argue that Miller was employed on a “work-for-hire” basis under the direct supervision of Cunningham. That the story was entirely Cunningham’s and Miller was essentially hired to transcribe his vision of how the story was to play out. If this is true Miller isn’t entitled to re-claim anything.
Who can prove what will decide where the lawsuit goes from here. Reports online state that the suit currently seems to be leaning in Miller’s favour. A memo to Cunningham from his assistant, dated May 22, 1979, mentions sending Tom Savini (who would provide the film’s FX) the first draft of the script; a May 23 letter addressed to Savini also refers to an enclosed screenplay.
The problem with that is Miller and Cunningham’s screenwriting agreement, supplied by the production companies, is dated before this on June 4, 1979. If Miller’s documents prove he had already completed a draft of the screenplay before this date, destroying the “work-for-hire” argument and also the fact he was listed as the sole screen writer for the movie.
I think we’re all hoping for a swift end to this thing so everyone can just move on and prepare for a thirteenth film. In the meantime, fans taking to shamefully harassing anyone on either side of this case only serves to make our whole community look bad.