Marvel Spotlight5In 2001, writer Gary Friedrich said

Well, there’s some disagreement between Roy, Mike and I over that [the origin of Ghost Rider]. I threatened on more than one occasion that if Marvel gets in a position where they are gonna make a movie or make a lot of money off of it, I’m gonna sue them, and I probably will. … It was my idea. It was always my idea from the first time we talked about it; it turned out to be a guy with a flaming skull and [who] rode a motorcycle. Ploog seems to think the flaming skull was his idea. But, to tell you the truth, it was my idea.”

Now it is revealed that Friedrich is as good as his word, as he has sued Marvel, Columbia, Hasbro and a slew of smaller production companies. The heart of the suit is Friedrich’s claim that he created the character 3 years before it appeared in a Marvel comic, and when it was published with Stan Lee’s Magazine Management company (later to become Marvel Entertainment) they failed to register it with the copyright office, meaning Friedrich gained the rights to his creation again in 2001.

Friedrich alleges copyright infringement, and accuses Marvel of waste for failing “to properly utilize and capitalize” on the Ghost Rider character. Marvel’s attempts to do so, Friedrich claims, have only damaged the value of his work by failing to properly promote and protect the characters and by accepting inadequate royalties from co-defendants. Friedrich also claims that toymaker Hasbro and videogame firm Take-Two have improperly created merchandise based on the characters.

Friedrich created the character of Johnny Blaze and his alter ego Ghost Rider in 1968. Three years later, he agreed to publish the character in comic books through Stan Lee’s Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment.

Under the agreement, Magazine Management became holder of the copyright for the first issue, which explains the origin story of Ghost Rider. Lee’s company also held the copyrights to subsequent Ghost Rider works.

However, Magazine Management allegedly never registered the work with the Copyright Office and, pursuant to federal law, Friedrich regained the copyrights to Ghost Rider in 2001.


The case is similar to suits filed over the years by creators ranging from Joe Simon to Marv Wolfman. In Wolfman’s case, he sued for the ownership to Blade, claiming that various discrepancies over checks and the standard work-for-hire agreement meant that he had never surrendered the rights to the character that he had obviously created in TOMB OF DRACULA.

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Without looking at the suit, or knowing anything else about it, the Friedrich case is interesting in that it claims Copyright had never been filed at the Copyright Office. Since Ghost Rider made his first appearance in a Marvel Comic in Marvel Spotlight #5, in 1972, whatever work-for-hire contracts were in effect then might have applied to Friedrich, or would certainly have been assumed to apply. Sometimes undotted I’s and uncrossed T’s can cause problems for such assumptions.

As for Thomas’s somewhat different account of Ghost Rider’s origin, it’s online at the Comic Book Artist Magazine site:

Roy: I had made up a character as a villain in Daredevil—a very lackluster character—called Stunt-Master. I took the name from Simon & Kirby’s Stuntman, but I made him a motorcyclist. Anyway, when Gary Friedrich started writing Daredevil, he said, “Instead of Stunt-Master, I’d like to make the villain a really weird motorcycle-riding character called Ghost Rider.” He didn’t describe him. I said, “Yeah, Gary, there’s only one thing wrong with it,” and he kind of looked at me weird, because we were old friends from Missouri, and I said, “That’s too good an idea to be just a villain in Daredevil. He should start out right away in his own book.” When Gary wasn’t there the day we were going to design it, Mike Ploog, who was going to be the artist, and I designed the character. I had this idea for the skull-head, something like Elvis’ 1968 Special jumpsuit, and so forth, and Ploog put the fire on the head, just because he thought it looked nice. Gary liked it, so they went off and did it. Then of course, you had to change the Western Ghost Rider into Night Rider, and Phantom Rider, [laughs] and Bill Black has the Haunted Horseman… Ghost Rider has had more names than Elizabeth Taylor’s spouses!

GHOST RIDER, the movie, has grossed over $200 million worldwide, and is coming out on DVD on June 12th.

1 COMMENT

  1. It’s nice how he waited till the movie was out and a sequal was announce before he decided to file, what happen 5 years ago when the right it went back to him? Why wasn’t something said then?

  2. The problem with the entire lawsuit is that it is NOT based on copyright law AT all. Must have the worst attorneys ever imo. Copyright did NOT have to be registered. It did NOT revert to the guy. And under current law, anything that was published in that era automatically renewed for 67 years. This is nothing like Wolfman where he tried to make shit up to wrangle is way out of things that were in writing- this is simple ignorance of the law, nothing more. Will be tossed out quite quickly like that LEAGUE lawsuit that claime Alan Moor was a pawn of Twentieth Century Fox.

  3. I’m no lawyer, but the way I understand it, this lawsuit is about work that was created before the 1976 Copyright Act and should be examined in that context.

    In 1971, to be copyrighted, a work had to be published in a dated periodical with a copyright notice on it, including the date. For example: “Copyright 1971 by Joe Sixpack”

    However, all this would guarantee is that the copyright holder could sue someone to stop using his creation.

    In order to collect damages, a copyright holder had to have their copyright officially registered with the Copyright Office. Gary Friedrich apparently alleges that Marvel never followed through with this latter step (this step is STILL the case under the newer law, by the way).

    Central to his case, Friedrich has to first prove that Ghost Rider is, in fact, his creation. This is going to be complicated by a number of things.

    First, he’ll need dated documentation that proves he was the sole creator. One way to prove this would be to have an ear dated, published fanzine version that pre-dates the Marvel version. However, if such a version does exist and Friedrich did not put a copyright notice on it (and in the late 1960s, almost no fan publishers did), then Friedrich’s early version is now arguably public domain.

    If Friedrich does not have a verifiable, published and copyrighted version of his Ghost Rider character, there are several people at Marvel who can strongly argue that they created various parts of the character.

    Second, there is an earlier version of Ghost Rider published by ME in the 1950s and Marvel in the late 1960s — both of which Dick Ayers was heavily involved with. Depending how strongly the motorcycle version mirrors the horseback version, its existence can undermine Friedrich’s creative claims.

    Third, if Friedrich created all or any part of Ghost Rider under a work-for-hire arrangement, he may have no claim on the work. According to the copyright law, “When a work is “made for hire,” within the meaning of the Copyright Act, the employer or commissioning party, who pays for creation of the work, is deemed the author, rather than the employee or commissioned party who actually conceives and fixes the expression (or causes its fixation).

    I don’t know what Friedrich’s motivations are for the suit, but a large company I worked for years ago was sued more than once by people who filed lawsuits with the intent, going in, of only pressuring the company into an out-of-court settlement payout. They were gambling that the company would prefer to pay off what they felt was a nuisance suit rather than incur the expense of an extended legal battle.

    I don’t know how this lawsuit will turn out, but based on what I know about the history of the situation, if I were a betting man, I’d say the odds are in Marvel’s favor if they decide to take this lawsuit all the way to trial.

  4. R. Maheras isn’t a lawyer, but he did sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night. ;)
    —–
    Hater and Ramos are showing a lot of anger about this. Why? How does this affect them? Friedrich has the right to file this lawsuit and the courts will make decisions about it. Other than Friedrich and Marvel, who does this affect?

  5. That’s funny.
    When G.Fredrich was at the Mid-Ohio-Con last Thanksgiving, he said NOTHING at all about his rights or the upcoming movie.

    I guess he was waiting to see just how much money it would make him…

  6. Sorry if I sounded anger by this, I just don’t think it’s right that it wasn’t until Ghost Rider became something more then a comic that’s he’s now saying it’s his. Yes, it is his right to file the lawsuit and if it does in fact belong to him he should get what is his. I’m just bother by the fact he’s doing this now and not years ago when the right was suppose to go back to him in 2001.

  7. Work for hire agreements did not come about until the 1976 Copyright changes. Prior to that, the Marvel method was to put a stamp on the back of the paycheck that said “By signing this document Marvel owns all rights. etc” Some people deposited their checks without signing them. In all the years I worked for Marvel I never signed any formal contracts, except at Epic. Lawyers are expensive. Why NOT wait until the property in question has generated a zillion dollars, give or take, before suing for a piece of the action?

  8. @Wilson Ramos jr.
    You still seem to be deriving your judgment of the situation from the assumption that Marvel is in the right here.
    If they are not, that is, if they’re witholding money from him that is legally his, Friedrich is in no way obliged to make things pleasant for them. Plus, a lawsuit is a stressful event either way and so there’s nothing at all wrong morally or otherwise with waiting until the matter is worth the effort. Whether that “worth the effort” is in terms of “can’t take it anymore” or “enough money” is immaterial. On the contrary, it’s actually the _norm_ that civil lawsuits are not filed until the damage because in some way substantial.

  9. I just remembered that there were statements about work for hire on the back of the art returns after ’76. If you wanted your art, you signed it. Wouldn’t have applied to writers. It’s been a while…

  10. Seriously people…OF COURSE he would wait until there was something worth suing about. Lawyers are not cheap. Gary probably doesn’t have the money to press this kind of suit. So…one has to wait until there is something to sue about…and then get a lawyer on contingency…where you are paying them 25-35 percent of th final judgement…and sometimes even then you have to pay the lawyers hard costs…which are not cheap. That’s the way the system is set up right now. There is no moral high ground unfortunately…but this is why people hate lawyers! :P

  11. Personally speaking, I would like to see Marvel lose this one, although I don’t think that they will. I detest the whole “work for hire” thing Marvel was running, and I think it is sad that Marvel doesn’t take care of the creators of the characters they make money off of.

    But then again, I am the kind of guy who refuses to buy non-creator owned works.

  12. All one has to do is search for Ghost Rider in the serials database and look for the entry Ghost Rider 22 items. This is a list that goes all the way back to ’68 and ends with June 1990. This covers comics published to ’94.

    The copyright searches cannot be directly linked and so all I can do is point.

    This brings us to the registered works database.

    A search here yields Ghost Rider with 49 items.

    Marvel had copyrights that expired in 1994 and in 1995.

    Columbia Pictures registered the Ghost Rider trailer in June 2006. There are other registrations for the trailers and the movie poster.

    Feb 16, 2007 Columbia registers the whole cinematic kit and kaboodle.

    Feb 26, 2007 Friedrich registers Ghost Rider. This is the Marvel Spotlight comic in ’72.

    Searches can be done at:

    http://www.copyright.gov/records/

    Columbia registered the movie prior to Friedrich’s registration. Marvel’s registrations are for Ghost Rider and go back to ’68. Friedrich’s registration is for Marvel Spotlight’s Ghost Rider in ’72.

    However, Marvel did let their registration for Ghost Rider expire. And created a mess.

    If successful in court it seems that what could happen is that Friedrich could prevent Marvel from using the Ghost Rider name in future comics.

    The merchandising hasn’t been registered either. So presumably he could try to block that as well.

    The movie itself is problematic for him as it was registered prior to his complaint.

    But in all likelihood he wants to settle and it looks like he could cause Marvel some headaches in the process.

  13. >>where you are paying them 25-35 percent of th final judgement…

    I think lawyers these days get 40 – 45 percent or even more…

    I can see him suing Marvel, but what gives him the right to sue Hasbro et al. *They* dealt with Marvel in good faith, if Marvel screwed him how are they even supposed to know about and why should they be punished for it?

    But, by suing as many companies as he can, he’s sweetening the pot for when he gets his settlement. Because that’s what this, and everything like this comes down to. Companies don’t want to fight it because it costs them more money in lawyers fees than it would to pay up, regardless of who is in the right.

  14. “Marvel had copyrights that expired in 1994 and in 1995.”

    Based on the dates you mention, that would be the copyright for Marvel’s Western “Ghost Rider” (created in 1966, first appearance cover-dated February 1967), not the Johnny Blaze version.

    Under the old copyright law, copyrights had to be renewed 28 years after the original filing. The copyright for the Johnny Blaze version should have been renewed around 2000 (which is why Friedrich claims the copyright reverted to him in 2001).

  15. I think this whole retroactive ownership lawsuit trend is wrong to begin with, but what bugs me even more is that it appears that when guys like Joe Simon or Gary Friedrich go off and file these suits, they seem to do so unilaterally for their own exclusive benefit.

    In the case of the Ghost Rider, why shouldn’t people like Dick Ayers, Roy Thomas, and especially Mike Ploog be co-litigants?

    Were they asked to be co-litigants and declined, or is Friedrich claiming he created everything about Ghost Rider himself? I think this is an important question.

  16. No this is the same Ghost Rider. It lists publication dates from the 70s to the 90s.

    I’m reading Friedrich’s complaint.

    His contention is that he created Ghost Rider prior to allowing Marvel to use the character. He acknowledges that Marve copyrighted the character.

    Of course, Marvel allowed it to lapse.

    What his complaint doesn’t mention is that Columbia copyrighted the movie before Friedrich registered the lapsed copyright.

    Seems to me that the movie should be free and clear.

    Now the usage of Ghost Rider in comics is another matter altogether. Seems to me that he could block the use of the name Ghost Rider in comics.

  17. and one more point.

    The copyright lapsed Dec 31, 2001. He registered it Feb 2007. So that’s six years of limbo.

    If he really wanted the copyright he could have registered it immediately and then begun to publish Ghost Rider comics.

    He did not. As far as I know he hasn’t published any Ghost Rider comics.

    I believe that this will damage his case because if he were truly interested in the copyright he would not have waited six years. He would actively be using his copyright.

  18. “Were they asked to be co-litigants and declined, or is Friedrich claiming he created everything about Ghost Rider himself? I think this is an important question.”

    Friedrich has claimed (see the 2001 interview quoted at the top) that he created the character by himself.

  19. “No this is the same Ghost Rider. It lists publication dates from the 70s to the 90s.”

    I just checked, I see seven records for Ghost Rider issues #1 to #7, the Western version from 1967 (registration numbers RE-684-522, RE-684-540, and so on). And it seems you’re wrong about the copyrights expiring in 1994 and 1995 for these records, from what I can see Marvel *renewed* the copyright on those dates.

  20. The ‘major’ Ghost Rider copyright is the one that has lapsed. This one is listed under registered works and not under periodicals.

    In an earlier post I used the word “expired” in 94 and 95. I should have said that these are the last publication dates listed.

  21. I really don’t follow the discussion.

    Just go here
    http://www.unc.edu/~unclng/public-d.htm

    You will see that the copyright which was properly registered by Marvel was automatically renewed for 67 years. There is no debate about it. And the LEAGUE lawsuit was not settled, it was tossed.

    And whoever argued that GF should have waited till this time doesn’t understand law at all. The doctrine of minimized damages REQUIRES him to speak up the moment he notices that his rights are being f-ed with. It goes like this- when did you first notice that Marvel claimed copyright against your wishes. Oh I don’t know, 1978? Why didn’t you sue then if you had a case? Bye bye.

  22. matterconsumer said:
    “The copyright lapsed Dec 31, 2001. He registered it Feb 2007. So that’s six years of limbo.”
    &
    “I believe that this will damage his case because if he were truly interested in the copyright he would not have waited six years.”
    —–
    Maybe he didn’t know about this until recently?
    ———-
    Every time I see your screen name, I automatically add ‘lad’ to the end.

  23. GAH, what’s problematic is that Friedrich has registered Ghost Rider. Columbia has also registered the Ghost Rider movie.

    Now if Marvel had successfully renewed it the registration would show this. All the ones I’ve seen indicate that they have expired.

    Alan, the timing is suspect. My guess is that he wanted Marvel to pay him for the movie. Perhaps they didn’t. So he goes to a lawyer and the lawyer digs this up. Just speculation.

    As to my being a lad, that’s funny :)

  24. “The problem with the entire lawsuit is that it is NOT based on copyright law AT all. Must have the worst attorneys ever imo. Copyright did NOT have to be registered. It did NOT revert to the guy.”

    I’ve done some further checking. Friedrich is renewing the copyright based on Public Law 102-307. Check this link: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ15.html

    “For works copyrighted between January 1, 1964, and December 31, 1977, an application for renewal of copyright can be made at any time during the renewed and extended term of 67 years.”

    Under the law, the “author” of the work can claim renewal of the work. Friedrich must now prove that he is indeed the sole author of the work: that he brought the character to Marvel, instead of writing a story based on Marvel’s specifications for the character.

    As you correctly state in another message, Marvel’s copyright hasn’t expired, it’s just that Friedrich is using this law for renewing the copyright in his name.

  25. The cut and dried part of it is that Friedrich has successfully registered a copyright for Ghost Rider. His sole authorship has been denied. However, he was able to successfully (rightfully or wrongfully) register the copyright.

    But the actual lawsuit is aimed toward the Ghost Rider movie and all the companies affiliated with the movie and related merchandising.

    Now Columbia registered a copyright for the Ghost Rider movie. This copyright predates Friedrich’s. The lawsuit argues that these companies knowingly infringed his copyright. This seems unlikely because he hadn’t registered the copyright.

    Now I’m using the word “register”.

    Marvel registered a copyright for the Ghost Rider character in the late 60s. This is not Friedrich’s character.

    For some reason(s) Marvel did not register the Ghost Rider character in ’72. In ’78 the GhostRider comic is registered. (Perhaps it was problematic to register two different characters by the same company with the same name.)