The GeeksverseNEWS | Marvel, Gary Friedrich, agree to settle Ghost Rider case out of court

NEWS | Marvel, Gary Friedrich, agree to settle Ghost Rider case out of court
Published on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 by
Terms of settlement undisclosed and have yet to be finalized, but Friedrich’s counsel states that Friedrich and Marvel “have amicably agreed to resolve all claims between, among, and against all parties.”

Marvel Spotlight, (Vol. 1) #5, cover-dated August 1972, features Ghost Rider’s first appearance in comics.

The long-running dispute between writer Gary Friedrich and Marvel over the ownership of the character Ghost Rider is nearing an apparent conclusion, as both parties are close to coming to an agreement that will resolve all claims, according to a report from Reuters.

While the matter of who created the character of Ghost Rider has been a matter of contention for many, many years—at various times, Friedrich, editor Roy Thomas, and artist Mike Ploog have claimed sole or partial credit for coming up with distinct design elements of the character—the question of authorship only took a legal dimension in 2007, when Friedrich filed a lawsuit asserting copyright infringement against Marvel Enterprises and its partners “arising from the unauthorized creation and profiting from the Ghost Rider film” and for the unauthorized use of the Ghost Rider character “in the creation of toys, video games and other products.”

Friedrich contended that Ghost Rider—which first appeared in a  story in August 1972’s Marvel Spotlight (Vol. 1) #5 written by Friedrich, illustrated by Ploog, with unspecified contributions by Roy Thomas—was not a work-for-hire creation commissioned by Marvel but a character that he had already created (and therefore owned) prior to its use in a Marvel publication.

Subsequently, Marvel Characters, Inc. filed a counterclaim against Friedrich, alleging that it was the writer who had committed copyright infringement, trademark infringement, and violations of the Lanham Act on the basis of false description, false representation, and false description of origin.

After four years of deliberation, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that the questions of whether or not Friedrich was solely responsible for the creation of Ghost Rider and whether or not the character was indeed a work-for-hire creation were irrelevant as far as the issue of ownership of the character was concerned, since Friedrich had practically signed over any claims he might have to the character via the terms of contracts he signed as a Marvel freelancer in 1971 and 1978. Thus, in her legal opinion, Marvel owned the character free and clear. In addition, Forrest found for Marvel in the counterclaims suit in early 2012, and ordered Friedrich to pay Marvel $17,000 in punitive damages, the amount based on an estimate of the money the writer earned over the years from the sales of memorabilia and other collectibles on the basis of Friedrich’s representation of himself as Ghost Rider’s sole creator. This was a significant blow to the writer who, according to anecdotal evidence, was destitute at the time of the ruling.

Forrest’s decision was overturned earlier this year however, by Judge Denny Chin of the Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit). In his decision, Judge Chin noted that the language of the contracts Friedrich signed granting Marvel ownership of Ghost Rider was “ungrammatical” and “awkwardly phrased,” ambiguous on its face as to whether or not it applied retroactively to Friedrich’s work on Ghost Rider’s first comics appearance and similarly ambiguous on the matter of conveying the character’s future renewal rights to Marvel.

A new trial to be presided over by Judge Forrest was eventually scheduled for December 16 in the wake of Judge Chin’s finding, although the schedule has now been suspended as Marvel and Friedrich finalize their settlement.

To read our prior coverage of the Ghost Rider ownership dispute between Gary Friedrich and Marvel, which includes detailed analyses and reproductions of the relevant court documents, click here and here.
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