“I’ll be back” said the author of the original Terminator movie. Gale Ann Hurd, the author of the original Terminator film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, has informed Skydance Media that it is terminating the grant of copyright to the work and seeks to reclaims the rights…but how?
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 may 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.
Gale Ann Hurd was the author of the Terminator film may back in the 80’s. The movie has spawn many sequels and even a television series. Most of it bad but I digress. In 1984, the Terminator film was published and here we are 35 years later and, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Hurd has informed the studio who now owns the film, Skydance Media, that is terminate the transfer of rights. Also terminated is the right to make derivative works such as sequels to the original Terminator. The author must give two years before the termination takes effect and then all such exploitation of the work must cease in any way.
So what does this all mean for movie studios? Utter chaos perhaps as the loss of rights to make valuable sequels and prequels or just another settlement negotiation. Skydance will likely make Hurd a large monetary offer to retain the rights to the valuable franchise. This rule was enacted to allow original creators to reap the benefit of rights years down the line if their work stands the test of time. There are ways to contract around this reclamation from occurring but it wasn’t done in this case and now the rights will be terminated. A contract drafter specifically has to have someone wave rights to revocation. Its the little things but they could be worth millions.