Robot 6

People hate when rich companies sue poor creators

Would you demand $17,000 from this man?

The $17,000 that Marvel Comics intends to extract from Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich may cost them more than it’s worth, at least in terms of goodwill.

Friedrich, who created the character under in 1968, sued Marvel, Columbia Pictures and other companies in 2007, shortly after the release of the first Ghost Rider movie, claiming the copyrights had reverted to him six years earlier. The court found in Marvel’s favor in late December, ruling that Friedrich had twice relinquished his rights to the property, once by endorsing a freelance check that included an assignment agreement, and again when he signed a contract granting all rights to previous work in exchange for the possibility of more freelance assignments (which he never actually received).

Marvel figures that Friedrich made $17,000 from “the distribution and sale of goods depicting the Ghost Rider character appearing in Marvel Spotlight, Vol. 1, No. 5,” and the company wants its money back; in return, Marvel won’t pursue its counterclaims against him. Friedrich, who is 69, says he doesn’t have it. Marvel also wants him to stop selling Ghost Rider merchandise or even calling himself the creator of Ghost Rider if there’s anything in it for him.

Now, you can understand Marvel (and parent company Disney) wanting to protect its copyrights; that’s just good business, as Ebenezer Scrooge used to say. And clearly Friedrich has been a thorn in the company’s side for a while. But in these days of the 1 percent and the 99 percent, the sight of a rich corporation sending a bill for $17,000 to a destitute comics writer (who is probably destitute in part because of the work-for-hire system) is not playing well. A Support Gary Friedrich Facebook page has sprung up and already has 960 Likes; Marvel is getting called a bunch of jerks (and much worse) in forums and comments all over the Internet, and a fan even wrote an open letter to Ghost Rider star Nicolas Cage, asking him to pay the $17,000 himself. This has now become a petition at Change.org (where the Jack Kirby petition now has more than 800 signatures, by the way).

Torsten Adair has a great post at The Beat that gives more details on Friedrich’s current situation and raises (as does the CBR article) the troubling possibility that this case may lead to a rash of lawsuits against creators who sell convention sketches of superheroes they don’t own. Publishers have tended to turn a blind eye to this, because it doesn’t really cost them anything, it increases the visibility of the characters, and enforcing it harshly would make them look like, well, a bunch of jerks. But when lawyers walk into the room, common sense goes out the window. That is clearly what has happened in the Friedrich case. $17,000 means nothing to a corporation like Marvel — it probably spend that on wastebaskets for its meeting rooms — but the insistence on collecting it will ensure that Friedrich will spend the rest of his days in misery. That’s the sort of behavior that makes people hate big companies, even ones that make their favorite comics. Having won their case in court, Marvel should just declare victory and walk away.

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38 Comments

Isn’t he threatening to appeal the case and drag Disney back into court? Also, isn’t it kinda dumb to sue a corporation while actively violating their trademarks and copyrights? Not sure I understand where the indignation by comic fans is coming from. Is Disney actively trying to collect this money or is it just the ruling?

When do companies finally get that “legally right” and “morally right” are no synonyms? That’s just disgusting behaviour!
But probably the important point for Marvel here is the message to its creators: “Don’t sue us or else …”

Given Ike Perlmutter’s history of being a tight-wad, I actually doubt Marvel spends a tenth that much on its wastebaskets. They’re probably bought in bulk from Wal-Mart, because K-Mart was too expensive…

Corporations are psychopathic people. Don’t ever forget that simple fact.

Also, shouldn’t the title of this piece be “People hate when rich companies COUNTER-sue poor creators”

“People hate when rich companies sue poor creators”

I look forward to the Robot6 comment section people proving you wrong.

@Paul: “Not sure I understand where the indignation by comic fans is coming from.”

Right there at the top of the page, bro.

Marvel won in court. It doesn’t have to grind the man into the ground while it’s at it. It would have been fine to take the victory without demanding $17K and that he would stop referring to himself as the creator of Ghost Rider.

uh oh – he’s wearing a Ghost Rider t-shirt in the picture above – sue marvel, sue!!

@Thad – He’s appealing the ruling so it’s not done yet. If he’s broke, where is he getting the cash to appeal? Disney will be shelling out more cash for defense which they can afford, but it is costing them money when by law, they probably did no wrong.

He’s getting the cash by selling unlicensed Ghost Rider shirts

(kidding of course)

I do not feel bad for him. He picked a fight, and they fought back. Because he is outclassed is not Disney and Marvel’s fault. If I start a fight with a UFC fighter, I better be ready to get my clock cleaned and not complain when he wipes the floor with me. I initiated it. He doesn’t have $17,000, too bad. I barely have enough to pay my expenses, but that doesn’t get me off the hook. Will Nick Cage pay my mortgage for me?

Steve Niles is collecting donations for Gary at http://www.steveniles.com/gary.html. I just donated a whole hell of a lot less than I’d like to, considering how much enjoyment the man gave me as kid as writer of the first Marvel comic I ever loved, SGT. FURY.

not surprise marvel is doing this given how they like dc once they gain the copyright or even claim signing a paychceck is a work for hire deal. that they would go after some one like Fredrich . marvel could just drop the demand and if nothing else if they do not want Fredrich profting from his own creation then supply him with ghost rider stuff to sighn from them. hope the bad publicty winds up backfiring on Dis marvel by hurting the box office of ghost rider2 now sad marvel would restort to this for the man is a senior citizen he deos not need to spend his remaing years desitute because Marvel did not like him trying to make money off his own creation.

@Brandon: Allright, so any big company can push anyone around, just on the fact that they are a big company and they can do anything they want because they are a big company? Friedrich didn’t pick the fight. He sued because he was DEFENDING himself and his creator’s rights. So you wanna have the law of the strongest? Fine, then we don’t need no law anymore after all.

@demoncat – Roy Thomas & Mike Ploog say he didn’t create Ghost Rider. They say that they did. Are they liars? Do you know something Roy & Mike don’t?

I don’t understand why Marvel doesn’t just pay all the co-creators of their major franchises a living stipend. Even if you ignore the ethical obligation, it just seems like it would be better for business, in that there would be fewer lawsuits, better PR, and in the instances where a creator does decide to sue, the fact that he’s been receiving regular checks will help to sway public opinion by making the creator look ungrateful. Also, the idea that a successful new character could secure a solid retirement fund would go a long way in encouraging the current batch of creators to invent new IP. Ethical arguments always make me a bit uncomfortable, but in this case it seems like even Marvel’s bottom line would benefit from better treatment of creators.

@demoncat – Roy Thomas & Mike Ploog say he didn’t create Ghost Rider. They say that they did. Are they liars? Do you know something Roy & Mike don’t?

According to three sites I checked, Gary Friedrich is creditted as scripter (alternately: co-scripter) of Ghost Rider’s debut in Marvel Spotlight and many other subsequent appearances. If that’s not in dispute, then he is certainly a co-creator.

@Paul

Read Ploog’s comments (you know, get some actual facts). Ploog says he does not remember. Then he says something ambiguous about how they knew it would not just be a dude with a motorcycle helmet. Frederich clearly states that he thought of the flaming skull. So you want to play games with semantics and give credit to Ploog?

Not to sound callous but Friedrich DID pick this fight, and he should’ve been aware going in that his odds of actually winning were pretty slim, based on previous attempts by other creators to achieve the same goal. Marvel had no problem whatsoever with him selling Ghost Rider materials until he brought it to their attention that he was doing so. It’s not like this whole thing started when one of Marvel’s lawyers spotted him at a convention.

I personally don’t feel Marvel should collect their money. However, claiming that Friedrich is “probably destitute due to the work-for-hire” system seems a bit over-the-the top and sensationalistic. There’s plenty of other creators who worked under that system that aren’t destitute. He wasn’t that destitute that he couldn’t hire a lawyer, and both he and his legal representation of choice should’ve realized that this wasn’t going to be a quick fix in any case — if they had won, Marvel / Disney certainly would’ve went for as many appeals as they could get, and dragged this out indefinitely.

I certainly feel bad for the guy if he’s fallen on hard times, but no one put a gun to these folks’ heads and made them work in comics under a work-for-hire contract. Which is what they were doing — if you want to be considered a professional writer, part of that deal is that you understand what you’re getting into when someone pays you for your work, what your rights are. You can debate what Marvel owes someone like him in terms of overall compensation, but Friedrich worked in a system that was clearly not set up to award creators ownership of their work. That may be ‘sad’ or ‘wrong’, but no amount of lawyering is going to change the past.

The idea of creator ownership has been around for over twenty years . . . why hasn’t Friedrich tried his hand at making something new that he did uncontestedly own? Seems to me that being able to say “from the creator of Ghost Rider” might’ve not been a bad bit of marketing.

The name Ghost Rider came from a Marvel western character dressed in a white suit and skull-looking mask on a horse. The motorcycle was a reasonable choice to replace the horse and the skull idea was already present. Whatever contributions Gary Friedrich gave, not sure it could be called “created.” Still Marvel’s actions are wrong-headed, stupid and petty. Oh wait, these are the same people who placed Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s credit at the end of the movie in a list of several Cap writers. And clearly Joe and Jack were sole creators. Can’t wait till this current roster of Marvel writers claim to have created Bucky Barnes 20 years from now.

Wow.

MARVEL-slash-DISNEY’s vengeful vendetta in the courts against Friedrich really makes DC-slash-WARNER BROS.’ continued necrophiliac sodomising of Moore’s 30 year old creations seem much, much better in comparison… right?

Mainstream Comics Industry, everybody!

ed – I was thinking the same thing. DC and Moore, Marvel and Frederich, McFarlane and Gaimen, Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore – what a bunch of infighting bloodsuckers this industry has

He doesn’t have $17,000, too bad. I barely have enough to pay my expenses, but that doesn’t get me off the hook. Will Nick Cage pay my mortgage for me?

A perfect summary of what most people think about these situations. They always turn it into a pity party for themselves. They’re petulant and angry and even jealous in some strange way that I can’t completely understand. “I have troubles; therefore, this guy I know nothing about deserves all the crap he gets. It makes me feel marginally better about my own lot in life.”

Given the complexity of copyright law, made worse by the work-for-hire situation in this case, I don’t think it’s even remotely accurate to blatantly state Friedrich was “picking a fight” and “brought this on himself” through a series of poor decisions. Clearly it was more complicated than that. There was a lot of back and forth in the courts for years, so even the courts didn’t think this was a cut and dried verdict. And with all due respect, I doubt anyone commenting on web pages knows more about the situation than the courts do.

@Marc C
Here here on the psychopath bit. The only reason they get to act like that and (most of the time) not get caught is because of a legal loophole that’s been around since the Reconstruction era after the Civil War: corporations tricked the government into granting them a status that legally makes them people. To end this ‘reign of terror’, we have to get the government to close those loopholes for good and make corporations once again ‘inhuman’–in other words, lobotomize them.

At least DC does royalties.

John Leasure said: “The name Ghost Rider came from a Marvel western character dressed in a white suit and skull-looking mask on a horse. The motorcycle was a reasonable choice to replace the horse and the skull idea was already present. Whatever contributions Gary Friedrich gave, not sure it could be called “created.”

Almost right! The Grand Comics Data Base shows Ghost Rider, the western spook, published in 1951 by Superior comics. I seem to remember that he was created by Dick Ayers, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t know how Marvel ended up publishing this same cowboy ghost in 1967, but it probably was because Dick Ayers created it (in 1951) and in 1967 he was then working for Marvel.

This motorcycle-version of the Ghost Rider is merely an update of an old character, not a new creation. Gary Friedrich has no claim to “creating” the character. And I don’t see how Marvel can claim to own Ghost Rider , either, unless they bought the rights from Superior Publishing when Marvel first brought back the Ghost Rider (western spook) in 1967.

Dick Ayers should be getting big bucks for this, if anyone. (Personally, I find the guy on the horse way more interesting than the guy on the motorcycle.)

In my post, I link to the original post (hat tip to Stephen Bissette via Facebook) where it is reported:

In a letter to the judge asking for a teleconference, Friedrich’s attorneys state that they are already owed $100,000 for legal fees.

“no one put a gun to these folks’ heads and made them work in comics under a work-for-hire contract. ”

* Sign this contract, or we won’t give you any future assignments. (Friedrich)
* Endorse this check with the contractual statement, or you won’t be able to cash the check. (Siegel and Shuster)
* Sign this agreement, or we won’t return your original artwork. (Kirby)

Here’s a question to ask at the next Marvel panel:
If Marvel characters are so great, why doesn’t Marvel list creator credits on their comics? Or are Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and The Demon better than Spider-Man, Wolverine, Deadpool, and the Avengers?

Jake,

I do believe you are correct about Dick Ayers drawing the western character the western Ghost Rider, Carter Slade, but if memory serves me correctly, Friedrich was the writer on those stories. I have no idea if either he or Ayers came up with the idea for the character together or separately, but I’m pretty sure Friedrich was around at the beginning.

Mike,

Gary Friedrich was in deed given credit for the “script” for Ghost Rider #1 in 1967, while Roy Thomas was listed as “plotter”, which to my mind would give Thomas more claim to having created the character — except for the fact that the western Ghost Rider appeared in 1951 for Superior Comics, looking essentially the same, drawn by Dick Ayers. In 1951, Friedrich was about 8 years old, so I doubt he contributed.

And this motorcycle-riding Ghost Rider with the blazing skull — isn’t he visually a direct rip-off of Timely’s old Blazing Skull character? Who appeared in Mystic Comics #5 through #9 (1941)?

This current Ghost Rider wasn’t so much *created*, as he was rather cobbled together (swiped) from earlier prototypes. Rather like Marvel’s BLIND Daredevil was swiped from Gleason’s MUTE Daredevil.

The court document states that after Friedrich signed the 1978 agreement, he freely admitted that he subsequently spent a year riding around with a friend and abusing alcohol. He conceded that even if Marvel or anyone else had an assignment for him, they couldn’t reach him.

The title of the article should read that co-creator (and even that is dubious given the pre-existing Ghost Rider) loses a lawsuit he started and the judge ruled in Marvel’s favor on the counterclaim. But I guess that’s not sensational enough.

I feel for the guy, it can’t be easy to have had a hand in something that went far beyond what anyone expected it to at the time it was created. To have fallen on hard times and then see the money roll in from the movie far beyond anything he’d ever earned had to make Gary Friedrich all the more aware and unhappy with his situation.

However by pursuing a suit he drew attention to a common practice of creators selling prints and sketches that Marvel and DC typically ignore because it’s good for the characters, fans, and the artists selling the material. But being that the rights for those creations belong to the companies as a matter of law (not as a matter of what is right) the court is then bound by the law as it pertains to the rights, and the courts interpretation of the statutes to rule against Friedrich.

The situation on the whole is extremely distasteful, but with a major legal battle looming with the Kirby family that has the potential to cripple Marvel, I don’t expect the Disney legal team is going to use kid gloves with any other cases. I would expect if the appeal is denied Marvel will make no move to collect the money, which is moot because this effectively cuts Friedrich completely off from con art sales.

@Gadget Legs – you’re confused

I hope the donations go well, it won’t be easy to pay those legal bills or make up lost income from print sales at cons, talk about kicking a guy while he’s down.

According to my research (Wikipedia, Comic Book Database, and Grand Comics Database), the original Ghost Rider was the alter ego of Rex Fury, published by Magazine Enterprises, and created by Raymond Krank and Dick Ayers. When the copyright/trademark lapsed, Marvel copied the character pretty much verbatim and changed his alter ego to Carter Slade. The Marvel “rip off” version was written by Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich with Ayers, the original co-creator, on art. So, if you want to get technical, neither writers nor Marvel created the concept of the original Ghost Rider, they legally stole it and simply changed his civilian identity. And, the current Ghost Rider’s name and look is essentially a hodge podge of what came before; name taken from western character, appearance taken from golden age character (Blazing Skull), and Johnny Blaze was basically Evel Knievel.

Well your hodgepodge theory could be applied to many characters. Will you say that Deadpool is not really a distinct character because he is a hodgepodge? The current Ghost Rider with the motorcycle and flaming skull is the one that has caught on and earned Marvel a truckload of money – and that is the one that Frederich had a hand in creating.

So as usual in Internet discussions – we’re back where we started

@yumph!! Point taken. It’s true, there’s nothing new under the sun and many creations were inspired by what came before. Friedrich’s part in adding to the character and back story of Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider is what set it apart. And, I also agree that Marvel should leave well enough alone and back off. $17,000 is a mere pittance to what they’ve earned from the character over the years and now they’re just being cruel and petty.

I agree SW. And the courts have allowed a precedent to be set by ruling in Marvel’s favor on this case

The action by Disney is going to back fire. Who will want to work for this company?. Lets call it for what it is. The contract states that says that every thing that artists create will be owned by Disney and Marvel. If you get any residuals or compensation, it will never be enough to make a living.

That says a lot. Marvel did this to Kirby, Ditko and Gerber and a host of others too numerous to mention. The comics industry seems to be still 50 years behind the times in terms of compensating creators.

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