Disney’s potent legal team is rumbling to life, this time on the defensive, thanks to a new lawsuit filed by brothers Jim and John Thomas, screenwriters who penned the 1987 action classic Predator. The Thomas brothers are seeking to exercise their rights to reclaim the Predator franchise, even as Disney plans a new installment in the series via 20th Century, formerly 20th Century Fox, to be directed by 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Dan Trachtenberg. As such, 20th Century has now counter-sued the Thomas brothers, contending that their claim to the rights is invalid.
The Thomas brothers wrote the script to the original film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger in the mid-1980s, titling it Hunters. The Hunters script then became Predator in 1987. The brothers have been patiently waiting through years of sequels for this opportunity to regain the rights to their work, by exploiting copyright law’s “termination provision,” which authors can use to cancel transfers of their work’s rights after a certain time period as expired—usually 35 years. Anticipating this for Predator, the Thomas brothers served a termination notice for the property all the way back in 2016—to effectively terminate this Saturday, on April 17, 2021. At that point, the rights would revert to the Thomas brothers—but then Disney stepped in at the last moment to object.
As stated in the Thomas brothers 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.”
Disney’s 20th Century countered with the following: “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,” states the 20th Century complaint. “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.”
The victor will come down to another clash between lawyers Marc Toberoff (representing the Thomas brothers) and Daniel Petrocelli (20th Century), who previously went to war in the last decade about the rights to Superman, which were ultimately retained by Petrocelli’s client Warner Bros. Toberoff, on the other hand, recently won a case for Friday the 13th writer Victor Miller (pending appeal), who had been attempting to regain the rights to that franchise for years.
The winner here will likely determine what format we see the aliens of Predator in next.