We’ve been meaning to write up the disgusting legal maneuver that has left 69-year-old Gary Friedrich owing Marvel $17,000 after a failed attempt to get some ownership of Ghost Rider, a character he co-created back in the ’70s. In a story first reported here by Torsten, Marvel/Disney filed a countersuit for copyright infringement based on Friedrich’s convention appearances selling Ghost Rider-related merchandise. As Daniel Best wrote:
This stipulation has been agreed upon and so ordered by the court, with the final judgement reflecting all that contained within. This now means that Gary Friedrich has the right to appeal, and appeal he shall, but it also means that he now owes Marvel Comics, a multi-million dollar making machine, backed by the multi-billion dollar Disney company, $17,000 and cannot ever sell anything related to Ghost Rider, nor can he even say that he created Ghost Rider for any form of gain or advertising. Well done Marvel!! I do wonder though, how does the likes of Joe Quesada, who has also made millions from Marvel in recent times, take the court’s judgement? As Friedrich himself has stated, he is unemployed, has no real assets and is, for all intents and purposes, destitute. $17,000 might be chump change for some, but for someone in Friedrich’s situation it’s a lot of cash.
The reaction to this has been two-fold. First, it’s the latest and worst example of an encroaching corporate power-grab against actual creators—although it is merely financial Darwinism in a world where corporations are people, there is the chance of a significant PR backlash, as James Sturm’s call for a Marvel boycott earlier in the week over the Kirby matter shows.
Second and even more chilling is the possible end to the gentleman’s agreement that has allowed freelance artists to sell sketches, drawings and even entire books of art based on copyrighted characters. Marvel and DC have long looked the other way for this staple of the freelancer’s income. But Disney doesn’t. If Friedrich owes $17,000 over the bits and pieces he has sold over the years, what about the countless, expensive convention sketches by Adam Hughes to name just one? Or Steve Rude. Or anyone.
These questions are now circulating everywhere. In the meantime, Friedrich is old, broke and in ill health. Although many doubt Marvel will try to collect the money—since he had none—the ruling has taken away one of the few ways he had to make money. As he has written to several supporters, he is in danger of losing his home. In a recent Facebook status update, he wrote:
Since the various news agencies and websites have reported the ruling against me on my claims against Marvel in the Ghost Rider lawsuit, and the assessment of a $17,000 judgment against me and my company instead, I have read an amazing amount of comments in my support on the internet, and have received many messages of support directly. Although the reports of my employment situation and financial difficulties as well as problems with my health are unfortunately true, I want to let everyone in the comic book world, especially my supporters and fans of the Ghost Rider character which I invented, created, and wrote, that I am going to appeal the Court’s ruling and continue to fight this as long as I am able and that your support of me means more than you will ever know. I have heard your voices. I thank you with alll my heart, and I appreciate your thoughts and best wishes as I soldier on.
Feel free to keep in touch with me via e-mail: email@example.com.
Thanks again and God bless you.
A worried industry has responded. Steve Niles has set up a donation page and a PayPal button.
Yes, it’s time to pass the hat once more. But that old, broke freelancer is going to be most of us someday if we don’t smarten up now.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.