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The legal battle that nearly killed ‘Friday the 13th’

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinion of Byte or Byte’s editorial board.

Friday the 13th, the game, has been in a bit of a pickle as of last summer. Victor Miller, the original film screenwriter in the 1980 classic, claims that he was not employed when he wrote the movie. He has since terminated a grant of rights and reclaimed ownership of property. These claims can be made because of the Copyright Act’s termination right, which states that, “The Copyright Act permits authors or their heirs, under certain circumstances, to terminate the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license of an author’s copyright in a work or of any right under a copyright.”

If you have not heard of the game, Friday the 13th is a survival-based horror game. The game can up to eight players in one multiplayer session with one player as Jason Voorhees and the others as counselors. The player that is randomly selected to be Jason has the objective to kill the counselors before they can escape the map. There are nine versions of Jason that are playable and fourteen counselors that are  playable. Each version of the characters has different strengths and weaknesses. The game is either won when Jason kills all the players, resulting in a Jason win, or a counselor/ all counselors escaping.

Image from Comic Book

All of this might be a bit much to sink your teeth in to. All of this started back in 1979 when Sean S. Cunningham and Victor Miller collaborated in the making of Friday of 13th after the success of Halloween. This was not Miller and Cunningham’s first project together, and over the course of Miller and Cunningham working together, Miller entered into a “Writer’s Flat Deal Contract” with the Manny Company, “an entity” made by Cunningham. The contract is a brief agreement with blanks that both parties fill in stating, “[t]he Company employs the Writer to write a complete and finished screenplay for a proposed motion picture . . . presently entitled or designated Friday 13.”

Turns out the only boxes that were marked on the contract stated that Miller was only liable for the first draft of the screenplay and the final draft. With this kind of open-to-interpretation contract, Miller claimed that he was work-made-for-hire. U.S. District Court Judge Stefan Underhill, ruled in favor of Miller and had this to say about the case, “I hold that Miller did not prepare the screenplay as a work for hire and that Miller’s Second Termination Notice validly terminated Horror’s rights to the copyright in the screenplay to Friday the 13th.”

Image from Express

With all of that wrapped up about as simply as possible, we can finally get into what has been happening to Friday the 13th the game. Gun Media, the company that is partnered with Horror Incorporated, the company in the lawsuit, is in a complete standstill when it comes to making content for the Friday the 13th game. They are not able to make updates to game, add maps, Jason’s, etc. There was a leak last year regarding a new Jason and a new map, but that was stopped even before 50% completion according to Gun Media.

With Miller winning the case and a complete standstill in the Friday the 13th games, will fans of the game/ genre ever receive what they are looking for in terms of gameplay, or will they be stuck playing what could be a cult classic for years to come?

Sources: Copyright.govWikipedia, DocumentCloud, Hollywood Reporter, Friday the 13th Game Forum,

Images: Comic BookExpress

Featured Image: Consequence of Sound