Copyright law changes herald uncertainty for beloved franchises

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Changes to the US law could result in film studios losing the rights to some of cinema’s most celebrated properties.

With a new Terminator film hitting cinemas at the end of the month, we’ll be returning once more to that cinematic institution, built on the fascinating premise of an uncertain future, teetering in the balance. And so, in a curious case of life imitating art, the Terminator franchise finds its own future in a sudden state of uncertainty, as news has broken (courtesy of THR) to reveal that a recent copyright law change in the U.S. now means that originators of a work can apply to reclaim ownership of it after 35 years.

In the case of the Terminator films, Gale Ann Hurd, co-screenwriter on the original 1984 film, has submitted a termination notice to Skydance Media, meaning the production company could lose the rights to make future Terminator movies by November 2020. There’s existing form for this too: Victor Miller, the original Friday the 13th scribe has already won back the rights to that series via the same approach.

Although the process is complicated by the fact that international copyright law isn’t in line with these U.S. changes, it still promises to cause a shake-up of sorts. In the case of Hurd and the Terminator franchise, the other person that stands to benefit is series godfather, James Cameron, who would also claim back the rights to a franchise he has sometimes lamented the direction of.

It isn’t just the Terminator films that face an uncertain future: lots of properties approaching their 35th birthday will be up for grabs too, including Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Beetlejuice, Die Hard and more. It’s certainly an interesting development in the world of franchise cinema and we’ll keep you posted on future developments. Terminator: Dark Fate hits cinemas on October 25th.

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