‘Predator’ Screenwriters Sue Disney for Rights, Disney Slaps Back

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It might be awhile until we see a Predator series on Disney+ or Hulu. The screenwriters who wrote the original 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic are suing the Walt Disney Company to try and recapture their rights… but it’s complicated.

Last month it was reported that Disney-owned Marvel Comics canceled a planned Predator comic book series, and the lawsuit could be why.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, brothers Jim and John Thomas have filed a lawsuit against Disney seeking confirmation of successfully recapturing rights to the franchise. The Thomas brothers are seeking to exploit copyright law’s termination provision. After 35 years, the copyright of a work theoretically should revert to the originator.

THR breaks it down in layman’s terms…

In the late 1970s, Congress amended the law to allow authors to grab back rights from studios after waiting a few decades. Until now, the termination provision has largely been exploited by musicians, not screenwriters. But records show a flurry of termination notices in the past year — under law, they can come 35 years after publication — which threatens to unsettle who owns the ability to make sequels and reboots of iconic films from the mid- to late-’80s.

Studios are facing the prospect of losing franchise rights to many IPs created in the 1980s. Could this be part of the reason why Hollywood endlessly reboots beloved franchises over and over and over again, to retain copyright?

We know that Disney is pretty adept at manipulating copyright law for its own IP. So its no shocker that they’d want to retain rights to other acquired IP. Disney nabbed the rights to Predator as part of its pricey Fox acquisition.

According to the Thomas brothers’ complaint, the effective termination date for their Predator screenplay (originally titled “Hunters”) is April 17, 2021, this Saturday.

Jim and John Thomas say they served a termination notice all the way back in 2016, but heard no objection from Disney.

“Then, in early January 2021, Defendants’ counsel unexpectedly contacted Plaintiffs’ counsel, contesting the Termination Notice as supposedly untimely, based on a theory that the 1986 Grant of the Screenplay underlying their Predator films allegedly qualified for the special, delayed termination time ‘window’ in 17 U.S.C. § 203(a)(3), intended for ‘book publication’ grants,” states the complaint.

The Thomas brothers say they served alternative notices of termination with later effective termination dates. Disney is not satisfied, so the Thomas brothers are now seeking declaratory relief via a lawsuit.

However, Disney won’t go down without a fight. There were reportedly plans for a Predator sequel or reboot in the works, and the Predator race might have factored into their desire to build an ‘Alien-verse.’

Disney legal replied “Defendants’ notices fail to comply with these statutory requirements and are invalid as a matter of law. 20th Century seeks a declaration pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 that defendants’ notices of termination are invalid. This action is necessary because defendants are improperly attempting to prematurely terminate 20th Century’s rights to the Hunters Screenplay, at the very time that 20th Century is investing substantial time, money, and effort in developing another installment in its successful Predator franchise.

Ouch.

Like many Disney legal issues, this one could drag out for years. Or Disney could throw money at the Thomas brothers to make the situation “magically disappear.”

It’ll be interesting to see how many other studios face the same hurdles as bankable 70s and 80s franchises “age out” of copyright.

Maybe — just maybe — Hollywood will be forced to make new stuff. Wouldn’t that be something?

[Source: THR, Deadline]

 


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Thom Pratt
A Disney fan, but never a "pixie duster." As a former newspaper editor, web developer, and Disney comics freelancer, I'm able to combine that experience into writing about Disney objectively. I previously built The Kingdom Insider website from the ground up, and was Managing Editor for years. Current co-host of the Clownfish TV YouTube channel. Opinions my own. Yes, they're STRONG ones. Deal with it.