Is Jason Voorhees Gone for Good?

Stephany Kim

After the “cancellation” of Halloween last year,[1] people are not holding back this season. Haunted houses are scarier than ever,[2] and Halloween parties are more extravagant than ever.[3] But uninvited to these parties is Jason Voorhees, the hockey-masked serial killer from Friday the 13th. In recent years, instead of haunting American movie theaters alongside Michael Myers from the Halloween franchise, Jason has been mired in a legal battle launched by the original screenwriter of Friday the 13th, Victor Miller.

In 1979, Miller entered into an agreement with Manny Company, a limited partnership established by director Sean Cunningham, to create a horror film that would eventually be titled Friday the 13th.[4] Miller and Manny executed a two-page document entitled “Employment Agreement,” which provided that Manny “employ[ed] the Writer” Miller “to write a complete and finished screenplay for a proposed motion picture to be budgeted at under $1 million,” in exchange for two lump-sum payments.[5]

While Cunningham and Miller, already good friends before the project, worked closely in the subsequent months, the dynamic shifted when Phil Scuderi entered the picture. Scuderi—an investor who had agreed to finance the project in exchange for “complete control over the Screenplay and the Film”—began offering extensive notes that clashed with Manny’s creative vision.[6] In particular, Scuderi proposed that a child character who dies at the summer camp in Miller’s screenplay, “emerge[] from the depths of the lake as a disfigured child, and reach[] out of the water to pull one of the main protagonists into the lake” in the final scene.[7] Miller vehemently opposed the idea, but Scuderi nevertheless incorporated the scene.[8] Jason Voorhees was born again.

Fast forward to 2016, Miller remained dissatisfied with the revival of Jason.[9] And to kill of Jason once-and-for-all, Miller brought suit to terminate the grant of his copyright to Manny in 1979.

Miller has now emerged from his own legal lake victorious. On September 30, 2021, the Second Circuit held that the Copyright Act “empowers [Miller] [] to terminate the rights in the Screenplay that he earlier permitted [Manny].”[10] The central question before the court involved Section 203 of the Copyright Act, which allows creators to terminate prior copyright transfers after thirty-five years under certain circumstances.[11] However, this termination right does not apply to works-for-hire.[12] Works-for-hire include those “prepared by an employee within the scope of his or her employment” or “especially ordered or commissioned for use as contribution to a collective work.”[13] In such cases, the work’s actual author is not its legal author and cannot sue under Section 203.[14]

Was Miller Manny’s employee when he transferred his rights in 1979? Not according to the Second Circuit.[15] The Court explained that the Copyright Act uses “more restrictive definition of employment,” because the Act is “aimed at limiting the contours of the work-for-hire determination and protecting authors.”[16] Employment within the scope of Section 203 is grounded in the “common law of agency” rather than in labor law.[17]

In this context, the Court weighed the thirteen factors from Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid to determine whether Miller’s work was a work-for-hire, and concluded “the majority of the factors . . . weigh decisively in Miller’s favor.”[18] Therefore, contrary to the production company’s argument that Miller’s WGA membership established Miller as an employee under the National Labor Relations Act, the Court held that the overall context of the parties’ relationship suggests Miller was an independent contractor rather than an employee.[19]

 What does this all mean? Looking beyond this franchise, Miller’s victory is an encouraging outcome for creators, including the comics artists who sent a series of copyright termination notices to Marvel in recent months.[20] Although the termination rights regime is frequently under attack for its inadequate protection of creators, this decision at the very least shows that Section 203 can work to protect the “little guy” against big corporations.[21]

This case also highlights the “importance of clearly defining relationships” between artists and production companies.[22] Artists should be wary of agreements that identify them as employees or their works as made for hire.[23] Production companies, meanwhile, should review old contracts in anticipation of future termination suits.[24] Looking forward, section 203 will most likely “disrupt long-term [production] plans and find its way into movie budgets.”[25]

All this is to say, if you are a slasher movie connoisseur, there probably won’t be a thirteenth Friday the Thirteenth movie any time soon (there are 12 so far, including the original).[26] For now, you are better off switching camps and checking out the new Halloween movie this spooky season.[27]


[1] Hristina Byrnes and John Harrigton, COVID-19 Has Scared Off Halloween Events in These 37 States, USA Today (Oct. 4, 2020),; see also Aimee Ortiz, Can Halloween Be Saved? Yes, Experts Say. Here’s How., NY Times (Oct. 29, 2020),

[2] Eduardo Medina, Haunted Houses Need to Terrify You More Than Ever This Halloween, NY Times (Oct. 21, 2021),

[3] Amy Rosner, The Most Lit Halloween Parties in NYC, From Tiesto to Meduza, Gotham Magazine (Oct. 4, 2021),

[4] Horror Inc. v. Miller, No. 18-3123-cv, 2021 WL 4468980, at *2 (2d Cir. Sept. 30, 2021).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at *3.

[8] Id. For an overview of the 11 subsequent features Jason has featured in, see Daniel McDermon, The Times Critics’ Guide to the “Friday the 13th” Movies, NY Times (June 13, 2014),

[9] Kara Hedash, Friday the 13th: Why Writer Victor Miller Hates the Sequels, Screen Rant (Aug. 4, 2021),

[10] Horror, No. 18-3123-cv, 2021 WL 4468980, at *19 (“Miller must be considered the author of the Screenplay, and the Act empowers him now to terminate the rights in the Screenplay that he earlier permitted the Companies.”).

[11] 17 U.S.C. § 203. Congress has explained that the purpose of the section was to level out the “unequal bargaining position of authors” who may not know the full value of their work until it has been exploited. H.R. Rep. No. 94-1476, 24th Cong. 2d Sess. at 124 (1976).

[12] 17 U.S.C. § 203(a) (“In the case of any work other than a work made for hire, the exclusive or nonexclusive grant of a transfer or license . . . is subject to termination . . . .”)

[13] 17 § U.S.C. 101.

[14] 17 § U.S.C. 203(a).

[15] Horror, No. 18-3123-cv, 2021 WL 4468980, at *1.

[16] Id. at *8.

[17] Id. at *7.

[18] Id. at *19 (citing Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, 737 (1989)).

[19] Id.

[20] See, e.g., Complaint, Marvel Characters, Inc. v. Lieber, Civil Action No. 1:21-cv-07955 (Marvel filed suit against artist Lawrence Lieber, who sent six termination notices to Marvel to reclaim his copyrights on works Marvel published from 1962 to 1964); see also, Allison Flood, Marvel Sues to Retain Control of Avengers Characters, The Guardian (Sept. 27, 2021),

[21] Dylan Gilbert et al., Making Sense of the Termination Right: How the System Fails Artists and How to Fix It i (Public Knowledge, 2019) (“Court records, academic studies, and press reports all point to dysfunction within the termination right regime”); see also Kathleen M. Bragg, The Termination of Transfers Provision of the 1976 Copyright Act: Is It Time to Alienate It or Amend It?, 27 Pepperdine Law Review, 769, 805 (2005) (“[Termination rights] could wind up hurting authors if the studios are forced to take independent action by opting to use only works made for hire”).

[22] Ross Charap, A Copyright Law Horror Show for Producers of “Friday the 13th", JD Supra (Oct. 15, 2021),

[23] Id.

[24] Evynne Grover, Copyright Act §203: Could More Blockbusters Get Busted?, 35 Communications Lawyer 23, 29 (2020).

[25] Id.

[26] See, e.g., Colin Tessier, Here’s Why There Hasn’t Been a Friday the 13th Movie in Over a Decade, Looper (Sept. 11, 2020), But see Mike Reyes, Could Friday the 13th Finally Return to Theaters? Corey Feldman Seems to Think So, Cinema Blend (July 28, 2021), (speculating the next Friday the 13th may come out soon according to actor Corey Feldman’s cryptic Tweet); David James, New Friday the 13th Movie Reportedly in the Works, We Got This Covered (Sept. 19, 2020),

[27] Jordan Hoffman, Michael Myers Says James Bond at Domestic Box Office, Vanity Fair (Oct. 17, 2021),