For all of the machinery and marketing behind the big franchise movies we see on weekends, it's easy to forget how much of this is owed to writers who come up with these ideas in the first place, and who often don't get due credit and compensation for what they're ultimately making possible. There's a new case and a newly-resurfacing law that might chance our estimation and the power of writers in Hollywood, however.
In what might be termed good news by those who have seen the currently existing sequels (the second installment obviously excepted), The Hollywood Reporter is reporting that future Terminator sequels could be put in jeopardy by a push to terminate (sorry) the studio's copyright grant from one of the screenwriters of the original film, albeit too late to undo the extant Rise of the Machines, Salvation and Genisys.
Gale Anne Hurd, one of the writers of "The Terminator", has undertaken to rescind the grant which now lies with Skydance Media, the producer of the upcoming Terminator: Dark Fate. The move is the fruit of a long-gestating law passed in the 1970s that would allow for writers and authors to retake control of their work after a period of thirty-five years; in case you haven't already guessed, the original Terminator came out in 1984 — thirty five years ago from the present date, for my fellow liberal arts graduates.
The Terminator is, fittingly, no stranger to copyright cases. The author Harlan Ellison went to the film's producer and distributor and complained of the similarity of the movie's opening to his own short story that was itself adapted into an episode of the Outer Limits, and cited quotes from Cameron suggesting that the similarity wasn't mere coincidence; he was granted some financial compensation and an acknowledgement in the film's credits. It's a twisting tale that's worth a read for sci-fi fans.
THR goes on to point out that the Terminator case might only be the opening salvo, as other films from the 1980s reach the thirty-five year threshold. But it's unlikely to be the end of sequels, prequels, reboots and remakes based upon these properties; the authors aren't reclaiming the rights simply to sit on them, not given the hundreds of millions on offer at the box office and elsewhere, and studios will undoubtedly look to put new deals in place to keep everyone happy and rich. Still, it could lead to seismic shift if just a handful of creators of influential works decide they want to look for a new home for their properties. Regardless, it's good to see rights and power accrue to creators and rightful copyright holders, if only so that they might enjoy the fruits of their remarkable creations (which—I cannot stress this enough— do not include the last three Terminator sequels.)