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Amazon refuses to pay screenwriter for the right to reboot Road House

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The screenwriter who penned the original screenplay for the 1989 cult classic film Road House, R. Lance Hill, is suing Amazon over its remake due out this March.

Hill, whose Hollywood pen name is David Lee Henry, has alleged that Amazon, MGM Studios, and United Artists (UA) failed to pay him licensing fees after the copyright to Road House was reverted back to Hill in November 2023. The studios, Hill claimed, have refused to recognize that Hill has recovered the copyright, instead moving forward with an allegedly “unauthorized remake.”

According to Hill, he transferred the copyright to UA in 1986 after writing the Road House screenplay “on spec”—which means “that he wrote it on his own volition, in the hope of finding an interested motion picture studio once the work was completed.”

But in the form granting UA the copyright, UA allegedly included “boilerplate” language in a “form recitation” that indicated that the screenplay was not considered a spec screenplay but rather a “work made for hire” by an entity called Lady Amos Literary Works.

Under the Copyright Act, a work made for hire would ordinarily mean that the screenplay was either created by a Lady Amos employee or commissioned by Lady Amos, neither of which, Hill alleged, applied to the Road House screenplay.

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Hill is the sole owner of Lady Amos, Hill argued, which “merely served as Hill’s alter ego for doing business” and has no employees. Lady Amos never paid Hill a salary or compensated Hill in any way for the screenplay, Hill said, nor did Lady Amos commission Hill to write the screenplay.

This hasn’t stopped studios from claiming today that Road House was a work made for hire, Hill’s complaint said.

Road House has become a worldwide cult phenomenon since I wrote it as a spec script in 1986,” Hill told Ars. “But recently, when I recovered my copyright, MGM/Amazon tried to hand-wave me away” by allegedly claiming that MGM retains the copyright.

Studios’ “contention that United Artists’ form recitation in the 1986 grant retroactively converted Hill’s pre-existing spec screenplay into a work made for hire is contrary to law and, as such, United Artists’ post-facto boilerplate is of no legal force and effect,” Hill argued.

Hill is not attempting to stop Amazon from releasing the remake, telling Ars in a statement that he’s “elated that Doug Liman’s Road House remake is considered to be his and Jake Gyllenhaal’s best work to date.” The screenwriter expressed enthusiasm for the remake, which will credit him for writing the original story and screenplay.

Instead, Hill is seeking a permanent injunction to block studios from releasing the remake without respecting his exclusive rights to the screenplay and paying appropriate licensing fees for their derivative work. He’s hoping that a jury will declare that his copyright was properly recovered last November and rule that studios are guilty of copyright infringement, owing maximum statutory damages to Hill.

“Without a newly secured license, defendants’ exploitation of the 2024 remake in the United States constitutes ongoing willful infringement of Hill’s copyright,” Hill’s complaint said.

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Hill’s lawyer, Marc Toberoff, told Ars that Hill’s lawsuit seeks to defend all creators’ rights to their works when dealing with studios today.

“The asset base of all major entertainment studios is content; without it they have nothing,” Toberoff told Ars. “It is time they respect the fundamental rights and artistry of creators on whose sweat and toil their empires are based.”

Ars could not immediately reach Amazon MGM Studios for comment.

Source: Ars Technica

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