Gary Friedrich, co-creator of the Marvel Comics character Ghost Rider, was ordered to pay the publishing company $17,000 this week in a counter-suit resulting from an intellectual property claim against the publisher.
This is a really messy case, that no matter how you look at it it’s going to be terrible and ugly, but before we get into all of that, here’s a little backstory on the case. Some of this information is cloudy, but it seems like the counter-suit has been won by Marvel, but they’re offering to drop that lawsuit if Friedrich settles to new arrangements made by the publishing company. Not everything is clear, and as of writing this article, I don’t have access to the court documents and all the information needed, but the details are truly irrelevant if you take the rest of the situation into consideration.
A while back, Friedrich filed a lawsuit against Marvel to retain the ownership rights of Ghost Rider as a result of the company failing to properly register the work with the U.S. Copyright Office. Well, the publishing company obviously didn’t like being sued over one of their most popular characters, one that has multiple feature film adaptations, so as a response, Marvel counter-sued the creator. And in the face of losing the case, Marvel has offered a settlement in which Friedrich would be ordered to pay the publishing company $17,000 over unlicensed merchandising and other works sold by Friedrich.
This is horrible.
Now, you may wonder how it is that Marvel could possible win the case at all, considering the fact that they didn’t register their property properly, and the guy that created the character rightfully wants ownership of his creations. That’s a certainly understandable way to approach the situation. However, a technicality in the law states that whether or not a work is registered, it doesn’t stop the creation from being copyrighted. Registering the work is a fail safe for copyrighter owners to prove that they own the copyright. So, in this instance, a huge publishing company that produces monthly comics featuring the character Ghost Rider wouldn’t actually need to register their paperwork with the Copyright Office. And, understanding how shifty the comic book industry is, I would have to assume that Marvel has proof of the work-for-hire contract that the company had Friedrich sign. Which again, is pretty awful, but especially at this point in time, it was standard. Actually, here’s another thing about work-for-hire contracts that some people may not actually know: if you sign a work-for-hire contract, you’re abandoning all creative ownership of whatever works that you are creating. So, legally, you have no rights to that character. This is how, I assume, the case would ultimately be won by Marvel.
Most industries have found several ways to take advantage of their employees. It’s not limited to the comics industry, the music industry or the movie industry, this is something that is rampant across the board. In fact, it’s not even limited to just screwing over creators. If you’re an assistant to a manager of a certain department in some random business and you do some innovative work and get something accomplished, the manager can and most likely will take credit for your accomplishments. Again, it’s the nature of the beast. It’s horrible, truly and utterly horrible, but it happens. And it happens all the time. This is pretty much just another instance of that. Or, it would if some other things were coming into play here.
First and foremost, Marvel absolutely did not have to counter sue. Whether it was in their legal right to or not, it’s not necessary. No one forced the heads of the corporation to make an example of Friedrich, but that’s exactly what they did. Again, they had the right to, but morally it’s absolutely wrong to do this. Friedrich is a man of modest means and was simply trying to take control of a character to which he had creative claim, and you can’t blame him for at least trying, regardless of the fruitlessness of the attempt. He’s a man of simple means and depends on money that he makes based off convention sketches and merchandise sales to make a living, so hitting him with a $17,000 lawsuit is something that could completely destroy his life. Way to go, big publishing company! Destroy a person’s life just so you can add a drop in your massive corporate bucket! Seriously, I’m almost 99 percent always in favor of the law, but when it comes to a company that winning a lawsuit would make no difference to its cashflow, then why even do something like this?
But, the $17,000 isn’t the only thing going on here. In the settlement, Marvel also orders Friedrich to give up all claim to the character of Ghost Rider, which means he would no longer be credited as a co-creator, he would not be able to sell sketches of the character, nor would he be able to legally state that he is one of the creators of Ghost Rider. However, the company would let him to sell his autograph to be printed on officially licensed merchandise from Marvel.
This is appalling. The is one of the worst cases of a giant company making an example of a man who simply doesn’t have the means to fight. Sure, he’s got 90 days to appeal the decision, and hopefully a future judge would find sympathy enough to throw out the counter suit by Marvel, but he’d have to get to that point first.
How You Can Help
Enter a modern champion of creator’s rights, Steve Niles. Steve Niles (writer of 30 Days of Night, Criminal Macabre, Edge of Doom) himself is rightfully an outspoken supporter of creator’s rights, the do-it-yourself-mentality, and creator-owned properties. So, in essence, Niles fights for the little guy. And in his recent effort regarding this case, he is calling upon creators, readers, and anyone else who is aware of this tragedy to come together and help Friedrich as much as they can to help him get by while in the midst of this terrible legal battle against a corporate machine with a team of lawyers hired to make sure they win at all costs. So, please go to www.steveniles.com/gary.html, where Niles has a personal note from and contact information for Friedrich, and help Friedrich out as much as you can.
Again, this is a messy case, and while it may seem like Marvel has legal claim to the character, they’re entire approach to the suit is completely unnecessary, and in this writer’s humble opinion, completely wrong.
[Source: 20th Century Danny Boy]