Clive Barker, the original author of the screenplay for the horror movie, Hellraiser, has sued to terminate his transfer of rights and to regain the rights.
Copyright law is complicated and the ins and outs can be incredibly confusing even to people who claim to specialize in the field. When someone creates a work (painting, screenplay, or photograph) they are deemed the owner of the work. There is one exception, if it is a work made-for-hire. A work made-for-hire comes in two forms: 1) you are paid by someone to create a work for them; or 2) the work is create in the normal course of business for an employer.
First, someone can be commissioned to create a work for someone else, like I am paying you to take a photograph of me and I will own the photograph. As long as the agreement is in writing before the photograph is taken, I own the rights instead of the photographer.
Second, if you create something in your everyday work life for your employer, they own it. For example, if I am a salaried reporter for the New York Times, the Times owns the copyright to any story that I publish.
If a work is a made-for-hire the original creator cannot ever regain the rights to the work. This is how many movie scripts and other stories are created. However, there is an exception.
If I independently create a work, meaning not as a work made-for-hire, I am the owner of the rights and I can do whatever I want with the work including transferring the rights to someone else. However, copyright law provides that after 35 years following publication and author can terminate the transfer and regain the rights to the original.
Clawing back the rights to movies has been all the rage recently. We wrote about it concerning the attempt to regain the right to the Terminator by the screenplay's author and there is a huge lawsuit that has been carrying on for years concerning the rights to the original Friday the 13th movie. You can read all about the Friday the 13th case here and we are expecting a decision on those rights from the appeals court very soon. The lawyers that represent the plaintiff in the Friday the 13th case, also represent the plaintiff in this case.
The sole question to answer, which is never as clean cut as you think, is whether the work was a made-for-hire or just a transfer of rights and a similar dispute is what is happening in this case.
Clive Barker was the author of the book, The Hellbound Heart, and its derivative screenplay, Hellraiser, way back in 1986 and 1987 respectively. Barker sent notice of the termination of his rights, which wouldn't take effect until 2021 at the earliest, but the studio behind the movies said the termination is effective because UK law is controlling. Hence, this lawsuit was filed asking for a declaration that the rights can be terminated on December 19, 2021. At one point the complaint claims the date is 2001 which is wrong and appears to be a typo.
Considering that Hellraiser is a huge franchise with more properties on the way, this should be a long battle like the Friday the 13th case.