Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ended a 4-year lawsuit against Marvel Comics. The lawsuit was filed in 2007 by ‘Ghost Rider’ co-creator Gary Friedrich. Friedrich, who helped to create the flame-headed motorcycle-riding spirit of vengeance in 1968 claimed that, since Marvel never actually filed the copyright on the character, he still owns the rights. Friedrich began seeking legal rights to Ghost Rider years ago as soon as he got word that Marvel was planning on using his character in other works. He officially filed the lawsuit in 2007 just after the release of the ‘Ghost Rider’ film starring Nicholas Cage.
Friedrich co-created the Johnny Blaze version of Ghost Rider in 1968 and first published the character in 1971 with Magazine Management, the company that would go on to become Marvel Comics. At that time, Friedrich sold the rights to the characters origin story (published in 1972 in ‘Marvel Spotlight’ #5) and all other ‘Ghost Rider’ stories from that point on. However, Friedrich says that since the copyright was never filed, the rights to ‘Ghost Rider’ reverted to him in 2001.
However, the ruling from Judge Forrest is based on evidence that Friedrich endorsed and cashed checks that were based on the condition that he give up his rights to the Ghost Rider character to Marvel. Friedrich accepted checks of this nature in both 1971 and later in 1978.
Judge Forrest says that, “Either of those contractual transfers would be sufficient to resolve the question of ownership. Together, they provide redundancy to the answer that leaves no doubt as to its correctness.”
Forrest says that by signing these checks, Friedrich’s case was void and that it saved the legal hassle of having to “travel down the rabbit hole” to figure out whether the original ‘Ghost Rider’ creation was work for hire or not.
Friedrich further claimed that he believed the wording on those checks to mean that Marvel bought the rights to publish Ghost Rider in comics but the rights to other media, such as movies, were still his. But when asked by Marvel’s attorney David Fleischer, “Was that understanding ever reduced to writing?” Friedrich simply replied, “No.”
Marvel’s latest film featuring the character, ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’ hits theaters in February 2012.