Friday the 13th vs. Victor Miller: Everything you need to know


It seems many Friday the 13th fans are unclear about the ongoing legal battle involving screenwriter Victor Miller, so let’s take a look at the facts.

It’s not such a great time to be a Friday the 13th fan.

Recently, we reported on the announcement of an end to all new DLC for Friday the 13th: The Game. According to the developers, this decision was made because of an ongoing lawsuit involving the franchise. For the same reason we won’t see a new movie anytime soon, the devs aren’t going to be releasing any more new content while the rights to the series are up in the air.

Here’s where things start getting foggy and quite toxic. The popular assumption seems to be that Victor Miller, who wrote the screenplay for the original film, has suddenly decided to sue to “steal” the rights to the franchise. Many players of the game have since taken to the internet in droves, angrily blaming the writer for the freeze on potential video game content. People have been harassing Miller nonstop since the news broke, saying some truly disgusting and disturbing things to him on Twitter — from verbally trashing him and calling for his death to even crudely insulting his family.

Photo via Twitter

Days like today embarrass me as a Friday the 13th fan.

Besides being terrible people, what all of these trolls have in common is their total misunderstanding of the case. While people are free to feel however they want, it’s important to actually familiarize ourselves with the facts before we automatically condemn someone this way. Let’s do just that by rewinding to the very start of this legal brouhaha and lay out what really happened.

Why now?

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 $9200 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).

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 what has become an ugly lawsuit.

Independent contractor vs. work-for-hire

Here’s what the lawsuit comes down to. Miller is entitled to reclaim the rights if he was a freelance writer that wrote the film “on spec,” as he claims. Miller says he penned the screenplay independently from director and producer Sean S. Cunningham, delivering the first draft without a contract or deal in place. If he wasn’t directly employed by the studio and the story is his own creation, Miller can legally challenge for the rights.

On the other side, the production companies argue that Miller was employed on a “work-for-hire” basis under the direct supervision of Cunningham. In other words, Cunningham would be the true “author” of the story, with Miller essentially just transcribing Cunningham’s vision as laid out to him. If the story was actually developed by Cunningham, then Miller would have his right to reclaim ownership denied. You can read their full legal complaint against Miller on DocumentCloud.

What this comes down to is, who’s lying… Miller or Cunningham? According to ipwire, the suit currently seems to be leaning in Miller’s favor. 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? Miller and Cunningham’s screenwriting agreement, supplied by the production companies, is dated June 4, 1979. If legitimate, Miller’s documents prove he had already completed a draft of the screenplay before this date, destroying the “work-for-hire” argument. Furthermore, the screenwriting agreement does not refer to Miller’s status a work-fore-hire employee, and even lists him as the sole author of the screenplay. If interested, you can read Miller’s full legal response, maintaining he developed the story independently.

What now?

At this point, we can only wait for a final ruling to be made. 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, shamefully harassing anyone on either side of this case only serves to make our whole community look bad. The movies and the game are still there for us to enjoy, so let’s just chill, be patient, and appreciate what we have. Jason Voorhees lives on.

Next: Friday the 13th: A look at every official poster

Where do you stand on this Friday the 13th debacle? We want to hear from you, so leave your thoughts in the comments section below!