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Marvel tells appeals court Friedrich signed away Ghost Rider rights

Marvel on Monday urged the Second Circuit to deny Gary Friedrich’s attempt to revive his copyright claims to Ghost Rider, reiterating that the writer no only signed away his rights to the character three decades earlier but waited too long to file his lawsuit.

Friedrich sued Marvel, Columbia Pictures and Hasbro, among others, shortly after the 2007 release of the first Ghost Rider movie, insisting he had regained the copyright to the fiery Spirit of Vengeance some six years earlier. He argued he created Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider in 1968 and 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, permitting the rights to revert to him in 2001.

In December 2011, a federal judge rejected Friedrich’s lawsuit, finding the writer gave up ownership to the property when he endorsed checks that contained language relinquishing rights to Marvel’s predecessors. The judge said Friedrich 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. (Two months later, Marvel agreed to abandon its 2010 countersuit accusing Friedrich of trademark infringement if the writer would pay $17,000 in damages and stop selling unauthorized Ghost Rider merchandise.)

The writer appealed in July, arguing the court erred in ruling that the language on the back of Marvel paychecks in the early 1970s and in the 1978 contract were sufficient to constitute transfer of copyright. However, his attorney also reasserts the claim that the agreement was entered into under duress, with Friedrich told “if I wanted to continue to work for Marvel that I would have to sign it.”

But in a brief filed Monday, and first reported by Law360, Marvel asserts that Friedrich’s “untimely” claim is not only barred by the statute of limitations — if the writer did reclaim copyright in 2001, he should’ve filed his lawsuit no later than 2004 — but more importantly by the 1978 agreement granting the publisher “forever” all rights to a work and agreeing “not to contest Marvel’s exclusive, complete and unrestricted ownership.”

“From 1972 until April 2004 — throughout the work’s initial copyright term and well into its renewal term — appellant Friedrich alternately sat in silent acquiescence and affirmatively confirmed that copyright rights in the work belonged to Marvel alone,” the brief states. “In fact, in 1978 he executed an agreement confirming that any works he had done for Marvel were works made for hire — meaning Marvel owned the copyrights in them—and alternatively, expressly quitclaiming to Marvel ‘forever all rights of any kind’ in such works. When, in April 2004, Friedrich belatedly raised the issue of the ownership of copyright rights in the Ghost Rider character, Marvel’s prompt and unequivocal response was that he had none. He then fell silent for three more years while Marvel continued to exploit the work in film, comic books, merchandise, toys and video games. It was not until after the release of a Ghost Rider motion picture in 2007 following years of widespread publicity that Friedrich brought this lawsuit.”

Friedrich’s lawyer Charles Kramer plans to file a reply brief.

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27 Comments

It’s time to give up Gary, Marvel is under the House of Mouse’s umbrella you can’t beat them now.

“It’s time to give up Gary, Marvel is under the House of Mouse’s umbrella you can’t beat them now.”

…or continue to try and cut Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog out of the creation of Ghost Rider…

Is it wrong that, since I donated to the cause of saving his house, I get a little annoyed when I hear him throwing more money into this fruitless legal battle. The more time passes and the more I read from him the more I feel like I was lied to by people raising money for Gary. The only one I still actual trust is Neal Adams.

@Josh

Yes, it is wrong. You need to understand the definition of the word giving – or otherwise, don’t give

As far as Marvel’s excuse about creators signing away their rights – well that is kind of the point of all of these creator’s right issues. If comic companies are allowed to use those kinds of practices to keep creators from making money, then we really haven’t evolved since the 50′s and 60′s. So the courts’ treatment of this excuse is going to set a very important precedent

Also, I find it interesting that Marvel is not even legally denying that Frederich created Ghost Rider – only that he singed away his rights

@OliverClothesoff

But that is the point. People and companies sign away/sell rights to stuff all the time. Marvel is saying this is no different.

Forget about legality for a minute. Let’s look at reality instead. The reality is that the Ghost Rider movie made a lot of money for many movie executives and their lawyers, and that not one of those parasites had a hand in creating the Ghost Rider. And those who actually created the character received little or nothing.

It makes me sick to my stomach to hear of execs, lawyers, and other “business” types getting rich off the creativity of others. Even if it’s “legal”, it still isn’t right.

@Jake Earlewine

They did have a hand in creating the Ghost Rider movie, though. Gary Friedrich did nothing (for the movie). The character he created has little to do with how the character was portrayed in the movie, and I don’t think I can even credit Friedrich with the look of Ghost Rider (I’ve heard a lot of controversy over where the look came from, can’t say I know this as a fact). I could make a better case of this, but I really should prioritize.

I kinda feel for Friedrich, he had a part in the creation of a cool character, and now he doesn’t get the credit he thinks he deserves. But I don’t feel for him in the fact that he was only a part of the creation, and has given little credit to the other artists and writers involved. I don’t feel for him in the fact that he made money off of other artists’ work without giving them credit. Reviewing for a legal test: “Those seeking equity must practice equity.” Marvel gave him a huge break by dropping their countersuit. He should’ve taken their mercy and put his creative and mental capabilities to more productive projects.

Still reviewing for a test: I have to think Marvel is doing the ethical thing here. Friedrich came after them, and they’ve put up a very soft defense to try and quell his accusations. The un-ethical thing to do would be to kick this recovering alchoholic while he’s down and take him for all he’s got. In a court case like this, $17,000 is nothing, especially when he’s gotten plenty of donations from other creators (bless their giving hearts).

I’m all for creative control being in the hands of the creators, but this battle has been long over.

@Jake

Exactly. And let’s not forget that pretty much EVERY other creative industry (movies, books, so on) do not have these draconian creator agreements that comics do. The comics business is a perverse little niche where antiquated practices are carried out – against the very people who create the things that people find joy and entertainment in

@Mr Rice

That’s like saying Tarzan has nothing to do with a Tarzan movie. Guess what, go make a movie about some unknown character and see how good it does in comparison

Don’t you realize that Hollywood has become DOMINATED by existing properties. Everything in movies is branding and name recognition now. GI Joe, the Smurfs, Snow White, Sherlock Holmes, Marvel and DC characters, Harry Potter, Bourne, 007. It’s ALL ABOUT properties! And you’re going to say – what – that Dr Seuss has nothing to do with the Lorax because he did not direct the movie?? Guess what, Dr Seuss’ heirs got paid – it is only in comics that we have these draconian practices in effect

@OliverClothesoff

Actually the exact same thing happens with movies and tv, I can’t speak directly to books though, as if I worked for a company, say NBC writing for SNL, and I came up with a character who became popular and movies and other items were created of that character I would not get automatic compensation just because I created the character as it would be owned by NBC Universal as most contracts where you work state anything created under you working for them is owned by them. Same for movies, I write a script with many characters that gets sold to a movie studio, unless I have a large deal of power (like george lucas) I wont get to own the rights to those characters. I would get a created by credit and money off of future movies made with those characters but I wouldn’t be the out right owner. It’s a tough practice for creators in any industry but it’s pretty standard when working for a company. That is why you are starting to see so may creators begin doing their own creator owned work these days.

@Mike

I appreciate your input – but if you are comparing Gumby or Ed Grimly or the Soup Nazi to the Hulk or Spider-Man, those are 2 totally different things, and are not analogous

However, you better believe JK Rowling, George Lucas, and George Schulz get money from Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Peanuts

@Oliver Clothesoff

Well, not really. It’d be like saying Edgar Rice Burroughs had nothing to do with a Tarzan movie. I wouldn’t make a claim so stupid as to say Ghost Rider had nothing to do with Ghost Rider. It’d be really cool if I could make a movie about a fresh new property, but it’s not my expertise. But, just to retort: How well know was a certain L. Skywalker know before Star Wars? Are you saying that a movie generally needs to be about a well known franchise to be popular? If anything I could make a claim about the opposite. How many people would have known of Ghost Rider, actually known of, not just aware of (Might be semantics here…), if he didn’t have a movie?

Doctor Seuss’ heirs get paid because they still have creative rights over his stories. The court will decide whether or not Friedrich sold away his. I could state my opinion on who should be paid, but like it really matters? I need to get studying. >_<

@ OliverClothesoff: I think it is terrible that George Schulz is pocketing all of that Peanuts money when it should really be going to Charles’ estate.

sadly as much as i would love gary to wind up winning and taking ghost rider from marvel he might as well work on a settlement where marvel keeps ghost rider and he gets royalties for the rest of his life other wise the fight is going to leave him with nothing in the end but broke and bankrupt trying to reclaim ghost rider

Ha ha! Marvel wins again! You can’t beat the House of Ideas, puny creators! Submit your imagination to us for all of eternity! Bwahahahaha

Well he can always write for Atlas Comics.

Jake and Oliver pretty much covered what I wanted to say. I’ll just add that I would be really offended if other people (execs and lawyers) made millions off of a character that I helped create while I was struggling to get by.

Hollywood really is all about properties. I can’t think of any blockbuster movies that came out this year that didn’t come from an existing franchise. (Feel free to correct me, but I doubt that any of the original movies that came out this year qualify as blockbusters.)

If you know how the game is played, read what you sign, then act surprised when you don’t own something anymore, not too much sympathy from me.

The biggest impediment to his suit is the lack of defense for 30 years. A copyright holder is required to continually defend or assert their right to their IP. The biggest thing hurting him is the years he said nothing, and that is why Marvel is keying in on that.

@OliverClothesoff-

It wasn’t a Christmas gift. It was charity. He absolutely has a right to be upset if he feels his charity was not used for the intention that was stated.

Oliver-
I’ve never understood the problem w/ the publisher making the $.Gary got what he agreed to,a check for a story.Marvel takes the risk.They pay him, the artists,printer, distributer, office staff,advertising,etc. If the character had flopped,as many do, should Marvel have sued him 4 the loss? Thats what i never hear in these arguements,why should the pay 4 hire creator reap unagreed to profits for a succes but not be held to paying 4 the losses?If the comic sucks when it comes out,Marvel has still paid to have it produced. If he writes Spidey & introduces a character that makes a long time reader leave 4 years, does Gary reimburse Marvel 4 the loss he caused?Of course not because THEY take the risk.They can afford to because they also make the money on the successes.

I think comic fans need to understand that you can’t have any consistency or continuity within a fictional universe if the publisher doesn’t own the rights to the characters being used in that universe.

This notion that lawyers and studios and businessmen are all vultures is BS. I don’t like blood sucking plutocrats anymore than the next guy, but if there wasn’t movie executives there wouldn’t be movies. There is alot of money that goes into making a movie. Gary was taking zero risk on whether that movie would succeed or fail. The studios were taking all that risk, the studios and investors spent millions to make that movie. Gary is attempting to, after the fact, claim ownership. Would he be doing anything if the movie lost money? or if they never made it all? we can’t answer that and neither can he because he didn’t pursue the issue until he thought he could money off it. That isn’t creator’s rights. Some of you speak as though these “vultures” are trying to make money off his work. Isn’t he trying to make money off of the work of those who invested ain and made this movie?

As a fan I love to see creators compensated. However, in the case of Marvel I would argue that editors are just as much creators. If a creator wants control and ownership they should self publish. Even in 1970 there was self publishing. Gary decided to allow ghost rider to be a part of the marvel universe so he let his baby grow up and move in with a collective of other characters.

I am one of the lawyers for Gary and his company in this fight. As the article indicates, we will be filing a reply brief . It will detail the flaws we believe exist in Marvel/Disneys arguments. We cannot otherwise comment on this pending litigation. However, I do think it is important to respond to the person who felt betrayed because he voluntarily helped Gary when Gary was in danger of losing his home, and now is annoyed that Gary is spending more money on this appeal. Gary’s efforts to obtain what we believe rightfully belongs to him and his company through our legal system should not be chastised, regardless of cost or his situation, because that is what our legal system is for, and it is the bedrock of our nation. However, in this case, Gary is NOT spending any money on the appeal anyway. His financial condition remains basically unchanged, and he is very thankful to those who helped him save his house. Although the lawyers will be compensated if we are successful in revesing the lower court’s ruling and moving the case forward to an ultimately successful resoluition, Gary is NOT paying anything at this time for the appeal and will not pay anything if we are not successful. — @Charkram

It all boils down to the fact that we, as the consumers, still have the power to make or break a title by either buying it or not. If people refused to purchase books from DC and marvel until they stop forcing creators to give up their rights contractually, they wouls be forced to oblige. Even a couple of months would make a hugecimpact in the direct market. These laws are well outdated, as someone said, movies, books, etc all recognize creators rights, comics are one of the only industries holding on to such antiquated laws that rob the creators of credit and rights to the charecters they created. Read on here a few months back that the creator of DC’s “static shock” died penniless, around the time dc was releasing static shock in the new 52. This is heartless, disrespectful and wrong. Its about time this industry woke up and started treating the people who created these moneymaking books and charecters with respect and value.

Charles-
“Gary’s efforts to obtain what we believe rightfully belongs to him and his company through our legal system should not be chastised, regardless of cost or his situation, because that is what our legal system is for, and it is the bedrock of our nation. ”

That’s cool that your helping him out pro bono, I respect that but I think you missed the point of what I said.
No I wasn’t saying he shouldn’t continue the case but the funds set up weren’t the “help Gary Friedrich’s legal fund.” It was about helping him keep his house. At the time I felt that’s exactly what I was doing and, until you posted here I seriously thought the money was going to continuing his legal issues and as someone who was happy to donate I felt a little betrayed. Thanks for clearing that up.

There’s only one way to beat the House of Mouse–sick a cat on them.

Seriously though, if I had been the one to take over Marvel, I would’ve settled this stupid thing by retroactively supplanting the original deal with a new co-ownership deal between the company and not only Friedrich, but with the others who contributed to Johnny Blaze’s creation.

I’m truly sorry to say what I am about to say. But io am so sick of hearing about creator rights. If you wriite for Marvel or DC, or make a character for them, they will own it, and you should know that going in,

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