“I don’t have time to bleed,” says Jesse Ventura in one of many quoteable lines from Predator. However, the brothers who wrote the 1987 sci-fi action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger are certainly taking the time to argue in a lawsuit that Disney should remove its mitts from the rights to the franchise.
As you can imagine, the House of Mouse doesn’t have that, and they’ve moved forward with their own Predator combination.
“There now exists between the parties a real and justiciable controversy regarding the validity of notice one and the respective rights of 20th Century and the defendants,” states Disney’s own filing filed by Daniel Petrocelli and his fellow attorneys at O’Melveny. & Myers. LLP (read it here).
In other words, who is the hunter and who is the hunted here?
As Deadline exclusively reported in November 2020, 20th Century Studios, now owned by Disney, is planning a fifth installment of the Predator to be led by 10 Cloverfield Lane director Dan Trachtenberg from a screenplay by Patrick Aison. Not so fast, say original scribes James and John Thomas, who are replaced by Marc Toberoff.
“In 2016, the Thomas brothers duly exercised their right under Section 203(a) of the Copyright Act to recover the copyright in their literary material by serving and registering with from the U.S. Copyright Office within the prescribed legal time, a notice of termination with an effective termination date of April 17, 2021,” says a filing (read here) seeking declaratory judgment filed in federal court Thursday against Disney and various subsidiaries.
The brothers wrote a spec script called Hunters in 1984 which 20th Century Fox bought two years later and published as Predator in 1987. Grabbing nearly $100 million at the box office, Predator spawned several other films.
And all is well with the Thomas brothers, it seems. What is not OK with siblings is that they want to use the provision of the Copyright Act that returns rights to the author or authors. After 35 years and a few hoop jumps, Disney would have thrown a roadblock in their path.
“For four and a half years (4 1/2 years) after the service of the notice of termination, the defendants did not object to it in any way,” continues the meager 12-page document requesting a jury trial. “Then, in early January 2021, counsel for the defendants unexpectedly contacted counsel for the plaintiffs, challenging the notice of termination as allegedly inappropriate, based on a theory that granting the 1986 script underlying their Predator films allegedly qualified for the special, delayed end-time “window” of 17 USC § 203(a)(3), intended for “book publishing” grants.
Endearing to ensnare the often elusive Disney in court, the Thomas siblings and their notoriously persistent attorney want a district court judge to issue a “preliminary order pending the pendency of this action and then permanently, enjoining the defendants and all persons acting in concert with them, to exploit after April 17, 2021 new derivative works based on the Script and the derivative Predator franchise, without first obtaining a new copyright license from Plaintiffs.
In other words, Hey Mickey, give us back our stalking, bloodthirsty alien.
No, said Mickey, you dropped the alien ball.
“The opinions of the defendants do not meet these legal requirements and are invalid at law,” says Disney’s own complaint seeking a jury trial, also filed today in federal court. “20th Century seeks a declaration pursuant to 28 USC § 2201 that defendants’ termination notices are invalid. This action is necessary because the defendants are wrongly attempting to prematurely terminate 20th Century’s rights to the Hunters Storyline, just as 20th Century is investing a lot of time, money and effort into developing another part of its success Predator franchise.”
With the fact that Steamer Willie and Mickey Mouse himself is still not in the public domain and likely won’t arrive when the last expansion expires on January 1, 2024, Disney is playing hard on copyright.
On another note, this will likely be a bare knuckle rematch between Toberoff and Petrocelli. The two faced off for years out of order Superman heirs’ copyright lawsuit that was ultimately won by Warner Bros, replaced by Petrocelli, in 2014.
In the meantime, while everyone is getting into their corner for this one, besides its ingenious premise, sequels, and spinoffs, Predator holds a unique place in movie history as one of three films starring the two future American governors. We know that Jesse “the Body” Ventura was governor of Minnesota from 1999 to 2003, while Schwarzenegger was governor of California from 2003 to 2011, but what were (without going to Google) the other two movies they were in together ?
As we say in Predator, “Go to the helicopter!”