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By August 14, 2017 Posted in Copyright

Here’s an interesting story if you are as big a fan of Stephen King as I am.  Stephen King has quietly filed notices that he intends to terminate the transfer of his licenses for the movies, The Dead Zone, Cujo, Creepshow, Children of the Corn, Cat’s Eye, and Firestarter. The termination notices were mailed on August 31, 2016, and will be effective as of September 1, 2018.

Stephen King Terminations

A little background.  In 1998, when Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act (which extended the length of the copyright term 20 years), it also added a provision allowing authors to terminate any transfers of copyright they had entered into after 35 years had passed for works first published after 1978. published .  The requirements are very specific (and are spelled out in Section 203 of the Copyright Act) but the basic requirements are that the author must send a notice two years before the termination will take place and that the termination must occur within five years of the end of the 35 year period.   Once the termination takes place, all the rights that were transferred revert back to the author

As you can see from the snapshot of the Copyright Office records, King sent out termination notices for these stories back in August 2016, making the termination effective as of September 1, 2018.

Once the termination takes effect, does that mean that the studios will no longer be able to distribute these movies?  The answer is no.  The Copyright Act says that derivative works (such as motion pictures) that were prepared prior to the termination may be continued to be exploited after the termination but that no new derivative works can be made.  In other words, after September 1, 2018, if a studio wanted to make a sequel or remake of any of these movies, they would have to go back to Stephen King and make a new deal.

Also, for reasons too complicated to explain in this post, the termination only affects U.S. rights.  If a studio wanted to make a sequel to Dead Zone, but only wanted to release it outside the U.S., it could, in theory, do that (although in practice that’s not going to happen).

Stephen King certainly has a lot of projects in the fire right now (Dark Tower, Mr. Mercedes and IT to name a few). It will be interesting to see what comes of these terminations and whether these will lead to new versions of these classic works.

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