Will Jason Voorhees Appear In Peacock's Friday The 13th Prequel Series? A Quick Legal Explainer

Halloween came in red hot with horror announcements making the highest holiday for the strange and unusual into a full-on spooky feast. Of the many exciting drops that marked the scary season came the news that "Friday the 13th" was coming to the small screen. Yesterday, it was announced that Peacock gave a straight-to-series order to Bryan Fuller (along with A24) to create a prequel. This is a colossal announcement that comes after years of limbo since the rights to parts of the franchise have been trapped in legal hell. Now, with the most recent court decision out, and the rights split amongst entities, the outcome we've been begging for might finally have arrived.

The lawsuit surrounding the "Friday the 13th" franchise has been a frustrating saga for fans but an interesting one for legal junkies or anyone with a stake in franchise copyright. Essentially, a man named Victor Miller penned the screenplay for the original movie, and it was produced by Horror Inc. In 2016, Miller evoked a piece of copyright legislation that basically says that a creator who once sold their copyright can actively request a termination of the sale after 35 years. In doing so, they get to claim the original copyright, in this case meaning that Victor Miller could take back and own the rights to the screenplay for the first "Friday the 13th." 

The idea of the legislation was to protect writers since they often cannot know the value of their property at the time of creating it. The legislation was created by Congress in order to protect writers from "the unequal bargaining position of authors, resulting in part from the impossibility of determining work's value until value has been exploited."

Horror Inc. attempted to block the termination, arguing that Miller did not, in fact, sell the copyright to them, but was an employee who wrote the screenplay for hire. That would mean that he never owned any copyright to sell, that he wrote it as an employee, and therefore could not evoke the termination clause. The issue of "work for hire" became the center of many copyright cases, especially as we surpassed 35 years since the legislation came into effect. We even saw it create the shakeup with Marvel characters and the ownership of Spider-man.

So who owns what?

What's interesting about "Friday the 13th," specifically, is that Miller was only the scribe of the first film and his claim only involved the copyright of the first screenplay. The rest belongs to Horror Inc. When Miller was successful in the appeal, the future of the franchise hinged on whether it was again appealed to a higher court, or whatever the owners decided to do with their rights. Success for Miller in taking back ownership of the original screenplay would mean he could only do adaptations that don't use any intellectual property created outside his original screenplay, that Horror Inc. could only make adaptations that don't rely on anything created in the first movie, or they would have to work out a deal between them.

Initially, it seemed impossible that Horror Inc. and Victor Miller would ever come to an agreement, especially with them having litigated the matter since 2016 and with so many other possible legal avenues and issues arising from the conversation. So the new prequel series seemed like it would be a remedy to the split rights; create a show leading up to the first movie and therefore leave the remaining movies out of it. But hiding in plain sight with the announcement of the Peacock series was a list of producers, one of them being Rob Barsamian.

In the litigation, Sean Cunningham had been the named representative of Horror Inc., so without Cunningham listed, it seemed like a combined deal had not been reached. But copyright and entertainment lawyer Larry Zerner (who played Shelly Finkelstein in the third installment) noticed Barsamian's name, which opened up the rest of the world. Barsamian was listed as the President of Horror Inc. at the time of the 2014 announcement of a "Friday the 13th" series that didn't ultimately materialize, and he's currently listed as the President on the public corporate records.

Will Jason be in the new series?

So what does this all mean? 

As a result of the most recent legal decision, rights were split between Victor Miller and Horror Inc. The only way for the series to access the "Friday the 13th" intellectual property would be for the two entities to work together. With both Miller and Barsamian (and also Miller's lawyer, Marc Toberoff) listed as producers, it looks like they made a deal. Brian Fuller seems to have confirmed this in speaking to Fangoria, stating that A24 and Toberoff, "excruciatingly assembled all of the 'Friday the 13th' rights. As a streaming series, we have the rights to do everything underneath the 'Friday the 13th' umbrella." That means that all of the copyright is on the table and that any of the lore from the "Friday the 13th" series can be used. That includes the hockey mask-wearing hulking Jason Voorhees and his murderous mother who hangs out at Camp Crystal Lake.

As to why it's a series and not a movie? Fuller explained that too. While the news of these two entities working together means that the rights to all of the film lore are on the table, the actual film rights are still in limbo. As he explains, the film rights are tied up with New Line, meaning the lore itself is accessible but not the ability to make more films.

After years of legal limbo for our machete-wielding killer and his sweater-wearing mother, we've finally arrived at the "if" solution we've all been waiting for. Jason and Pamela might belong to different entities, but with them coming together to produce this series, we can finally get more Voorhees media that keeps the entire story intact.