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Ghost Rider co-creator must defend himself against Marvel claims

While the big legal story is, of course, a federal judge’s ruling that the family of Jack Kirby has no claim to the copyrights for the characters he co-created for Marvel, the company also scored a courtroom victory this week in another, lower-profile case.

A judge declared on Tuesday that Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich will have to defend counterclaims by Marvel accusing him of violating its trademark by using the phrase “Ghost Rider” and the character’s image on posters, cards and T-shirts, Courthouse News Service reports.

The dispute stems from a 2007 lawsuit filed by Friedrich against Marvel, Columbia Pictures, Hasbro and other companies alleging the copyrights used in the Ghost Rider movie and related products reverted to him in 2001. He sought unspecified damages for copyright infringement, and violations of federal and Illinois state unfair competition laws, negligence, waste, false advertising and endorsement, and several other claims.

Friedrich claimed he created Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in 1968 and, three years later, agreed to publish the character through Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment. Under the agreement, the publisher held the copyright to the character’s origin story in 1972′s Marvel Spotlight #5, and to subsequent Ghost Rider works. However, Friedrich alleged the company never registered the work with the U.S. Copyright Office and, pursuant to federal law, he regained the copyrights to Ghost Rider in 2001.

The case has taken a few turns, with a judge in May 2010 dismissing the claims made under state law after determining that the Copyright Act of 1976 is the relevant federal statute. That decision was followed in December by counterclaims by Marvel Characters, the subsidiary that actually holds the rights to the company’s characters, accusing Friedrich of the unauthorized sale of Ghost Rider posters, T-shirts and cards online and at comic conventions.

Friedrich, who amended his complaint in March 2011, attempted to have the counterclaims dismissed. However, on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones rejected his motion. Courthouse News Service notes that Friedrich’s lawsuit is in discovery, with Marvel and the other defendants so far turning over 34,000 pages of documents.

Ghost Rider, the 2007 film based on the character Friedrich co-created, grossed $228 million worldwide. Columbia Pictures will release the sequel on Feb. 17, 2012.

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