What do The Terminator, Die Hard, Nightmare on Elm Street, Predator, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Beetlejuice have in common? The rights to every one of these franchises, and more could be hanging in the balance. The reason is a copyright law that authors are increasingly exercising, which could make for major battles and reboots/sequels galore, depending on how this all gets sorted out from case to case.
According to a new report, many authors are seeking to terminate the U.S. rights deals that were made for certain properties with various studios in the 80s. For example, Gary K. Wolf is seeking to terminate Disney's rights to the book that ultimately inspired Who Framed Roger Rabbit? That would mean Disney couldn't make a sequel themselves unless they cut a new deal. Or, they couldn't stop Wolf from cutting a deal for a remake or new interpretation elsewhere. Every single one of the franchises mentioned, and many others, are facing similar battles. Stephen King is said to be actively trying to regain the rights to many of his works.
The reason for this has to do with The Copyright Act of 1976. This initially gave musicians and songwriters the ability to regain the rights to music that was licensed after 35 years. The idea is that it would allow for them to renegotiate better deals and take back ownership of their work. In 2003, that same right was given to authors. So, this means people who wrote screenplays for movies, or works that inspired movies, such as novels or any other written work, can reclaim the rights to those works after 35 years. This only applies to the U.S. Copyright law isn't universal and is different from country to country.
It's a complicated process and one example is the legal battle going on with the Friday the 13th franchise. Screenwriter Victor Miller exercised this very right to try and get the rights to the iconic horror series back in his hands. However, it's resulted in a long, complicated legal struggle with no end in sight. That's not to say every one of these situations will be as complicated, but it could be a preview of what's to come. Many more movies and franchises from the 80s are likely to get tangled up in this. Not just the ones mentioned here.
One example of this already coming into play surrounded this year's Pet Sematary remake. Stephen King was trying to get the rights back and that left Paramount on a ticking clock. So they rushed the movie through production so they wouldn't risk losing the opportunity to do so later.
A couple of important points of emphasis. One, the author must give at least two years notice for termination. So this isn't a fast process. Two, again, this only applies to rights in the U.S. International rights are another thing entirely, which makes the situation a bit more tricky. Let's say the Predator rights are freed up and the new rightsholder cuts a deal with Sony to make a new movie. They would have to cut a separate deal with the international rights holder for distribution outside of the U.S. Is that impossible? Not at all, but it shows just how messy this all can get. This news comes to us via The Hollywood Reporter.