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Friedrich filed the lawsuit in April 2007, shortly after the release of Columbia Pictures’ Ghost Rider movie, accusing the studio, Marvel, Hasbro and other companies of copyright infringement, false advertising and unfair competition, among other counts. The film grossed $228 million worldwide; a sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, will be released in February.
The writer asserted 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.
But The Associated Press reports that on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled Friedrich gave up ownership to the property when he endorsed checks that contained language relinquishing rights to Marvel’s predecessors. The judge said the writer signed over all claims to the character in 1971 and again in 1978 in exchange for the possibility of more freelance work for the publisher.
“Either of those contractual transfers would be sufficient to resolve the question of ownership,” Forrest wrote. “Together, they provide redundancy to the answer that leaves no doubt as to its correctness.”
“The law is clear that when an individual endorses a check subject to a condition, he accepts that condition,” the judge ruled, contending her finding made it unnecessary “travel down the rabbit hole” to determine whether Ghost Rider was work for hire.