Robot 6

Marvel prevails in lawsuit over rights to Ghost Rider

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected a four-year-old lawsuit by Ghost Rider co-creator Gary Friedrich, who claimed the rights to Marvel’s fiery spirit of vengeance reverted to him in 2001.

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.

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18 Comments

in other words just singing a marvel check gives up copy right to a charcter thouh Gary could try again unde. wr copy right law later to reclaim ghost rider though in twenty years or he could try and appeal the ruling

Surprise, surprise.

This is no surprise. When you endorse a check (and take the money), you are explicitly agreeing to whatever conditions might be written on it (in, for example, the “For” line on the front.) So, if Marvel put language to the effect that, “we now own ghost rider” on the check, and he endorsed and cashed it, he’s agreed to that term for accepting the money.

The lesson? Read it before you sign it, whatever it is.

Sorry, but… how are checks supposed to work in the United States?
Never saw people writing policies on them…

There was a time when Marvel actually stamped a work for hire ontract above the endorsement signature line on the back of their checks that said by signing you were agreeing the work being paid for was work for hire. So in order to cash your check, you had to sign the contract. Here’s an example on a Kirby check:

http://kirbymuseum.org/gallery/v/Site/19860505BackOfKirbyCheck.jpg.html

“I feel like Bill Finger and I don’t want to get fingered!”

“travel down the rabbit hole”? If Mr. Friedrich hadn’t signed the check he would have still faced marvel’s army of corporate lawyers and Judge Katherine “screw the little guy” Forrest. The great irony is of course that today’s creators enjoy rights that they deny old timers by continuing to work on these stolen creations. I only buy comics that reward the creators. You can keep “Ghost Rider” Marvel Comics but you ain’t getting money from me!

Those were the times, writers, wanting to be “famous” or getting work, just accepted the job without FIRST scrutinizing the fine prints! What more if they are economically desperate for jobs and their loved ones?

“The great irony is of course that today’s creators enjoy rights that they deny old timers by continuing to work on these stolen creations. I only buy comics that reward the creators.”

At least they could pay the creator the same amount…yes, I can dream :(

Here’s my two cents: how about we eliminate the “fine print” and just make the conditions more visible to the people reading the contracts! That way, we can avoid messes like these in the future. I’m so sick of the “fine print” ruining people. Word to money-hungry head honchos of corporations: you just made my enemies list, and you’ll be the first to go.

If you don’t understand the terms (or they’re too small for your eyes or whatever), or you feel like the agreement is dishonest in any way, DON’T SIGN the agreement. It’s fairly simple.

It’s just a matter of getting paid now for the work you’ve created or waiting to see if you can develop it into something bankable on your own.

Coming along years later after others have contributed/expanded on the work and companies have invested money into that development and continued promotion of the property is just a cash grab.

I give up hours/day/weeks to my employer for cash now. He takes the work I’m performing and attempts to make a profit selling it for more than he pays me to create it.

If he manages to sell it for a billion dollars, that’s the payoff for his risking the development money. I don’t risk anything.

I receive the money I believe the work is worth immediately. If my employer isn’t able to sell the work for more than it cost to create, I still don’t lose a cent.

I believe in creator’s rights but I don’t believe in sour grapes financial litigation.

@Gasp!

Don’t be naive, they aren’t scrweing anyone. He srewed himself for waiting so long or not reading the fine print. he only has himself to blame.

@Acer

The fine print is visble, it’s just that some fools forget to read it.

Marvel putting contracts on the back of checks was something they always did way back in the ’70’s and maybe even in the ’60’s.
If one Creator just had the cahones to NOT sign the check and take Marvel to court over this unethical practice it probably wouldn’t have escalated to all the court cases we have today.
Signing the check to get the money and then taking Marvel to court 20 or 30 years later is just, well, not too smart.

@Rai
Then why not include a little (whatever those arrow sticky notes are called) at the spot where the fine print should be, so that the creator(s) read it before they make what may or may not be a huge mistake?
@Markus
Why doesn’t someone charge Marvel with ethical violations today? Then we’d see them change.

Although Gary Friedrich created Ghost Rider, I believe he only wrote 16 issues. A lot of the iconic elements of Ghost Rider were added by other writers. Still, it sucks that he lost a character that he created. I haven’t seen the movie; did he get a credit?

OccupyaBrainCell

December 30, 2011 at 8:41 am

Acer, really? nice comment, enemies list, first to go? the big bad corporations! the evil money-hungry corporations! give me a break. He signed a valid contract by endorsing the check, he can read, he knew it. Now that the property is worth something, he’s trying to cash in. well to bad, you dont own the rights. Would Mr. Friedrich be saying anything if the Ghost Rider property was a bust? no. …Marvel invested the money in the character, took all the risk. If Marvel lost money on it, would Mr. Friedrich being offering to pay them back since he thinks he’s own the character?

When I sign contracts, I routinely cross out the lines I disagree with, and sign my initials beside the deletion.

As for Ghost Rider, the guy on the motorcycle was just a rip-off of the old western Ghost Rider. Whoever originated the western character should be the one who owns the rights.

william g wilson

February 14, 2012 at 7:43 am

There’s a strong argument here that the “contract” was not valid. Marvel provided absolutely no consideration to Friedrich for signing away his rights. In other words, Marvel got Ghost Rider for free. They didn’t pay Friedrich anything extra for signing the check. They only paid him for the work he had already done. Furthermore, he was working freelance. Ordinarily, when one works for hire, the employer provides the workplace and the equipment and exercises control over both the means and method of the work. This is a terribly sloppy and lazy ruling by the judge, and I hope that Friedrich wins his appeal.

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