It would come as a surprise to no one, save those too young to even consider the past reaching beyond a few scant years, that the Hollywood studio system of the past was none too kind to the writers who helped to make it what it was. You don’t even need to have a memory to get some notion of that; this year’s Best Picture nominee Mank is a vehicle for just that message, positioning its protagonist as a figure robbed by history of his due credit for his part in creating an iconic film. Even now, in an era where credit is a bit more freely given, it’s still hard for writers to reclaim their rights.
1987’s Predator wouldn’t be defined as a classic, but it’s proven popular enough to sustain multiple films over three-plus decades, with a new one seemingly in the works. But an attempt by the writers of the original film to reclaim ownership over the property may put those plans on hold while a bloody fight is staged not in a jungle but a courtroom.
James and John Thomas, the credited writers of Predator, have taken aim at Disney for allegedly ignoring the duo’s attempt to reclaim the copyright on the work under a provision of the Copyright Act. Per the court filings, the Thomas brothers asserted their right under the law to terminate Disney’s hold on the copyright, and within the set window for doing so under that law. Given that the matter is now in court, said termination didn’t take, at least in Disney’s estimation of things.
The Thomases allege that Disney didn’t protest the termination notice until January of this year, at which point the company asserted that the notice failed to meet the required timeframe for a valid termination. And that is the story that Disney seems to be sticking with, as their own claims posit that the case and the notice should be thrown out as invalid for failing to meet the statutory deadline.
While the “when” of the notice will be determined in court, what’s not in question is that the Thomas brothers face an uphill battle in trying to reclaim the copyright of their script. The law may ultimately be on their side, but in the opposing corner is the House of Mouse, which like the great houses of old has built an unassailable (magic) kingdom. Given that Steamboat Willie remains protected by copyright nearly a century after its release, as Deadline’s story so keenly notes, points to the power and prowess of Disney’s legal team. In truth, the Thomas siblings may end up having fared better against their titular creation than the even more powerful and frightening entity they’re currently up against.