Friday the 13th Copyright: Judge’s Ruling

Friday the 13th Copyright
Categories: Criminal Law

Judge Underhill’s Ruling in Copyright Case for Friday the 13th

In a recent ruling by U.S. Region Judge Stefan Underhill on September 28th, a significant decision was reached concerning the copyright dispute surrounding the cult horror film ‘Friday the 13th.’ The judge’s decision centered on Victor Miller, the screenwriter behind the movie, and the crucial determination of the nature of his content creation.

Background of the Case

The legal battle traces back to an August 2016 complaint filed by plaintiffs Manny Organization and Horror Inc. This was in response to Victor Miller’s attempts to terminate the grant of his copyrights to Manny and Horror Inc., successors to the original film rights negotiated between Miller and Sean Cunningham, the producer of ‘Friday the 13th.’ The core argument revolved around whether Miller’s screenplay was a work made for hire under the Copyright Act of 1976.

Judge’s Decision and Analysis

Judge Underhill’s ruling delved into the intricacies of copyright ownership. Despite an agreement between Miller and Manny, the terms did not explicitly define the screenplay as a work made for hire, nor did it address copyright matters conclusively.

Under the Copyright Act, determining a work as ‘made for hire’ requires specific contractual language or an employee-employer relationship. The plaintiffs argued that Miller, being a member of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), was an employee of Manny. However, Judge Underhill did not align with this argument, citing the precedents set by the Supreme Court and the specific criteria outlined in the Copyright Act.

Legal Interpretation and Conclusion

The plaintiffs contended that Miller should be considered an employee under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) due to his WGA membership. However, Judge Underhill emphasized that the NLRA did not mandate such categorization and upheld the application of the criteria set in the CCNV test.

By assessing various factors, including Miller’s role, benefits, tax status, and the nature of his engagement with Manny, the judge concluded that Miller operated as an independent contractor. This decision retained Miller’s claim to the screenplay’s copyright.

Implications and Final Thoughts

Judge Underhill’s ruling highlights the complexity of copyright law, particularly in cases involving artistic works. It reaffirms the significance of clear contractual terms and established legal criteria in determining copyright ownership.

This decision not only affects the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise but also sets a precedent for similar disputes in the creative industry.

In essence, the verdict safeguards Victor Miller’s ownership of the screenplay and emphasizes the necessity for meticulous contractual definitions in creative collaborations.