Ghost Rider Rights Dispute Headed Back to Court

Ghost Rider

The Ghost Rider movie franchise is laying dormant for now, but the battle over the original comic book character is rearing its ugly head once more.

A federal appeals court has just overturned a 2011 ruling which stated Marvel Comics, not author Gary Friedrich, owns the character. After reviewing the copyright case, Judge Danny Chin determined that Friedrich’s original contract with the publisher was “ambiguous” and therefore required further investigation. More on what this means for Ghost Rider and other comic book properties after the jump.

Friedrich came up with the idea for Ghost Rider back in 1972. In 2007, the same year that Columbia released the movie Ghost Rider, he filed a suit asserting his claim to the character. Under copyright law, he argued, the Ghost Rider rights had reverted to him in 2001. A federal judge disagreed, however, and ruled in 2011 that the rights belonged to Marvel due to a work-for-agreement Friedrich had signed in 1978. The contract granted Marvel “all rights of any kind and nature in and to the Work.”

Undaunted, Friedrich appealed the decision. He was rewarded this week by Chin’s ruling that Friedrich’s contract with Marvel was “ambiguous on its face,” making it unclear “whether it covered a work published six years earlier” and “whether it conveys renewal rights.” The case is now headed back to trial, unless Marvel decides to settle out of court.

This isn’t the first time the “Marvel method” has led to legal disputes. A few years back, Jack Kirby’s estate (unsucessfully) sued Marvel over copyright claims. The comic book publisher maintains that creations like Ghost Rider and the Hulk are “works for hire” and that creators like Friedrich and Kirby therefore have no copyright claim. If Friedrich wins his case, though, it could raise questions of ownership about other characters created under similar circumstances.

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