Sunday, January 01, 2012

Gary Friedrich Enterprises, LLC. et al v. Marvel Enterprises, Inc. et al: The Judgement

One of the main creator claims against Marvel Comics in recent times was that of Gary Friedrich who was fighting for ownership of his iconic character, Ghost Rider.  The case wrapped up just a few days ago, and sadly Friedrich has lost and Marvel have won.  There's still a few loose ends to be wrapped up, but the following judgement says it all really.  I expect that there's no doubt whatsoever that Marvel appear to be destined to always win such cases, from Steve Gerber through to the Jack Kirby case; it all hinges on the signed statements on the back of the cheques and the one page agreements that Marvel had everyone sign in approx. 1978.  Friedrich put up a good fight and, at times, it seemed that he might actually get over the top as he was able to establish that he had the idea for Ghost Rider before he arrived at Marvel, but alas, some things aren't meant to be.  The second loss, and a strong case such as this, should send a message to to the creators who worked at Marvel in the 1970s and signed the now infamous 1978 agreement, along with the cheques that had the 'work-for-hire' statements on the back that by doing so, they've essentially signed away any rights that they might have otherwise had.  More proof that when you create something for a company, you don't automatically own it, unless you have that in writing, signed, witnessed and as air-tight as it gets.

Friedrich claimed, under oath, that he could have easily given the Ghost Rider concept to Skywald, a company where he created Hell Rider with Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, but didn't.  The irony is two fold - if he had created Ghost Rider for Skywald then he would have surely owned it by now, but it'd not be the same character that it became and, without the clout of Marvel Comics, it'd not have become as popular, nor as financially lucrative, as it is now.  This now leaves Friedrich in the position of having to undergo settlement discussions with Marvel in the next few days, and the coming weeks shall see he and Marvel attempting to resolve any counter-claims that were filed and to complete any discovery, if need be.  Hopefully Marvel will go easy on Friedrich, after all with the impending Ghost Rider sequel about to be released, again starring Nicholas Cage as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, it's not like they need any money that he might have.

Here's the complete judgement.
 
 
 
 

6 comments:

Richard Guion said...

Sad to hear, I hoped Gary would have a different outcome this time. Does this mean he potentially has to pay Marvel legal fees for losing the case?

Daniel Best said...

Very possibly yes. You'd hope that Marvel would be big enough to absorb their own costs, but these cases don't come cheap, and Friedrich was the one who instigated it - unlike the Kirby case, where Marvel actually took the front foot and filed.

There's still a bit more to be worked out, and the judge has ordered status letters and the like, so I expect that who pays who will be worked out at that point.

The Seditionist said...

A few points:

Judges in the U.S. *never* write judgments. Just decisions/order than can, under appropriate circumstances result in judgments being drafted, entered by the court, etc.

I wonder why you bloat the blog with page by page scans of things like the D/O here instead of just linking to a single document instead of the separate pages.

Anyway.

I was slightly surprised by the decision, basing it on just the 1978 agreement signed by Friedrich. Too, I wonder whether had there been an analysis of the creation of the character, what Friedrich submitted to Marvel, whether, had there been a finding that he owned the character, the 1978 agreement failed to provide sufficient consideration to deem Friedrich's ownership assigned.

Something of a judicial flipping of the bird here. On the other hand, not so sure Friedrich had legal ownership to begin with but the decision -- how the judge got there -- bothers me.

Wish Marvel could do the right thing, sort of like DC's been doing, and toss at least some bonus money to creators when a character ends up in a movie or whatever lucrative....

Daniel Best said...

Why do I 'bloat the blog'? Because it's my blog, that's why. I leave linking to other places to those who feel it's easier to let others do all of the work. I know that people like to come to the one place and get all of the information, without having to be lead all over the place, to other sites and the like - it gets frustrating after a while and, personally, when confronted with a blog or site that is just a collection of links (that might or might not be active, that might or might not be spam, that might or might not require me to pay to see the full thing) I generally pass.

Ok, it's an order, I stand corrected. Either way, it's in the record, sadly for Friedrich, he lost, Marvel, once again, won. How did he have legal ownership? If you read the transcripts it was established that Friedrich had the idea and concept before he presented it to Marvel. Clearly the judge believed that.

The Seditionist said...

Daniel:

The problem page by page scans of documents is with printing to read offline. Of course, it's an apples and oranges thing. Some people rather see the document albeit image by image within the post. Whatever.

The correction, as it were, about the order-not-judgment is strictly for your edification and no more. We like to keep our facts factually accurate, no?

My take on the decision was that the judge explicitly refused to address the issue of Friedrich's ownership, instead tossing the case on the basis that whatever he had (or didn't have), he gave up completely by signing the 1978 agreement, in exchange for which he would receive the possibility of maybe getting work in the future. To me, that's ass-backwards. I would like to think first you decide whether he actually had an interest in the character and if he did, was the possibility of getting work in the future sufficient to make the transfer legally proper. I'm no expert but the decision smells a little.

(I should add that while Friedrich would get points for creating the character on his own, there was significant editorial input prior to publication which may have been enough to keep the creation as work for hire, and Friedrich would still be SOL. But I don't know. Legally, this is far more interesting than the Kirby case.)

Mikeyboy said...

I appreciate your hard work and efforts and all the research you put into all your postings Dan. Great work.