Screenwriter, Victor Miller successfully reclaims domestic rights he assigned back in 1980 for his screenplay, Friday the 13th, by invoking the Copyright Act’s termination provision §203. Ultimately, the case turned on whether Miller was an employee (work made for hire) or independent contractor of the Film Company.
Determining Miller's employment status was important because, a transfer of a copyrighted work created as a work-for-hire cannot be terminated. In Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Reid, 490 U.S. 730, the Supreme Court created a framework for distinguishing between an employee and a non-employee author to be used in matters of copyright. Applying the Reid factors, the 2nd Circuit found Miller was, in fact, an independent contractor allowing him to prevail and successfully reclaim his domestic rights to Friday the 13th.
More importantly, however, Horror Inc. v. Miller, held that if the creator of a copyrighted work is a union member i.e. (Writers Guild of America, "WGA") that fact has no independent weight in determining whether there is an employment relationship. The Film Company asserted that the district court erred in interpreting “employee” under the Copyright Act in a manner that is in conflict with the National Labor Relations Act. The Film Company proposed that Miller’s WGA membership “inherently” created an employer-employee relationship , independent from the Reid framework. The 2nd Circuit strongly rejected this arguement.
The holding in this case may negatively impact the outcome of Disney owned Marvel Entertainment's lawsuit. Earlier this year, the estates of several iconic creators hired the same attorney, Marc Toberoff , to file a similar lawsuit to reclaim their rights under §203. Disney is counter-suing to prove that the termination provision does not apply because the creators were all work-for-hires. "Since these were works made for hire and thus owned by Marvel, we filed these lawsuits to confirm that the termination notices are invalid and of no legal effect, Disney's Attorney Petrocelli said to Times News in a telephone interview. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in light of the new Miller decision.
Link to Court Document: https://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/desktop/document/HorrorIncvMillerDocketNo18031232dCirOct192018CourtDocket?1633648663&fbclid=IwAR2_q5oUJ6RArEevIbLnFNHzJDxMM5lhsiZbDTOtvxPxdBd9njTRrB_HfWc