Disney & original Predator scribes at war over rights to the 1987 film

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Disney & original Predator scribes at war over rights to the 1987 film

Predator, disney, lawsuit, thomas brothers

Things are getting pretty ugly between the House of Mouse and the original scribes of 1987’s PREDATOR. This all began when Jim and John Thomas, the brothers who wrote the 1987 film,  filed a lawsuit against Disney seeking confirmation of successfully recapturing rights to the franchise. Not be outdone, Disney’s 20th Century unit has filed its own suit against the Thomas brothers with the goal of retaining the rights.

The Thomas brothers are looking to enact the copyright law’s termination provision, which allows authors to cancel transfers after waiting a period of time, typically 35 years for most newer works. Disney is trying to undermine the suit because they are reportedly eyeing a reboot of the franchise with 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg at the helm. The franchise, which began with the 1987 film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and spawned three sequels plus the spinoff movie series Alien vs. Predatoris a lucrative acquisition that Disney obtained due to their merger with 20th Century Fox. The suit from the Thomas brothers throws an obstacle in Disney’s way to move forward with more franchise installments due to the copyright law’s termination provision. According to the complaint, the effective termination date for their screenplay (originally titled Hunters) is this Saturday, April 17, 2021. 

The Thomas brothers claim that they served a termination notice all the way back in 2016 and, in four and a half years, have heard no objections. Per their complaint, “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.” In response, the Thomas brothers say they served alternative notices of termination with later effective termination dates. That hasn’t satisfied Disney so the Thomas brothers are now seeking declaratory relief.

Disney didn’t take long to fire off their own lawsuit against the Thomas brothers, likely keenly aware of what they could lose if they can’t retain the rights to Predator.  Here is a snippet of Disney’s complaint in their lawsuit:

“While federal statutory copyright law endows certain grantors, like defendants [the Thomas brothers], with copyright termination rights, such rights may only be exercised in accordance with the statute’s requirements, including provisions delineating when termination notices may be served and when the termination of rights becomes effective. Defendants’ notices fail to comply with these statutory requirements and are invalid as a matter of law.”

This is really just beginning to play out and it seems like everyone is just now preparing to get in their corners. Disney’s 20th Century is being represented by star O’Melveny litigator Daniel Petrocelli and the Thomas brothers are being represented by Marc Toberoff. Oddly enough, Toberoff and Petrocelli faced off for many years in the Superman heirs copyright suit that was ultimately won by Petrocelli, who was representing Warner Bros. back in 2014. Clearly, this is going to be personal for many reasons and it appears the gloves are just starting to come off.

Do YOU think the Thomas brothers have a chance to get the rights back to Predator or is Disney too strong of an entity to beat?

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