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SYFY WIRE the terminator

As Terminator heads back to theaters, a battle is brewing over the film’s rights

By Josh Weiss
Terminator 2

No one can stop copyright law...not even Skynet.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a legal battle is brewing over film rights to the popular Terminator franchise as the series' next installment, Dark Fate, is gearing up to hit theaters on Nov. 1. Per the article, Gale Anne Hurd — a writer and producer on the 1984 movie that first kicked off the iconic science fiction IP — wants to gain the rights back by trying to "terminate a copyright grant made 35 years ago."

Skydance, which currently holds the onscreen usage of the Terminator brand, acquired the rights in 2011 when Megan Ellison (sister of the production company's CEO, David Ellison) bought them for $20 million at auction. Not such a steep price when you consider that the entire franchise has made over $1 billion at the global box office.

If Hurd (now a producer on AMC's The Walking Dead) gets her way, however, Skydance would lose its grip on the creative property starting in November of next year. Moreover, she would get a 50-50 split of the rights with James Cameron, who co-wrote and directed the original movie in '84. If Skydance wanted to make another entry in the series, it would have to sit down and renegotiate with both owners. If a deal can't be reached, though, another studio could potentially step in, beguile Hurd and Cameron with a more palatable offer, and produce further Terminator movies. Of course, all of this is hypothetical right now.

Cameron (currently hard at work on his Avatar sequels) is a producer on the latest film in the franchise, Terminator: Dark Fate, which was helmed by Deadpool's Tim Miller.

Terminator's Gale Anne Hurd and James Cameron

All of this is reportedly based on... wait for it... a "termination law" Congress passed in the late 1970s, which allows authors to reclaim IP rights from Hollywood studios 35 years after publication. The entire purpose was to give creators the chance to have their works adapted more than once if they so wished. The dialogue over it came to prominence last year when a judge upheld the termination notice filed by Victor Miller, screenwriter of the first Friday the 13th film. Since then, more writers (or their surviving family members) have started filing termination notices to studios all over Tinseltown. The estate of the late Wes Craven was recently successful when it won back the rights to the Nightmare on Elm Street series from New Line Cinema.

Other entertainment companies like Disney, Warner Bros., and Fox (now a Disney asset) are starting to feel the echoes of this legislation as Gary K. Wolf (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), the heirs of screenwriter Michael McDowell (Beetlejuice), and the family of Roderick Thorp (Die Hard) are all seeking to take back certain valuable screen rights after so many years.

Studios and producers might be able to fight back against these requests by citing things like trademarks and foreign distribution rights where the U.S. termination law holds no jurisdiction. So we'll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.