This week, the latest judgements were made in the long-running legal battle between "Ghost Rider" creator Gary Friedrich and Marvel Characters Inc., and by extension, the latest victory of a comics company over a disaffected freelancer was also handed down.
Blogger Daniel Best, who has followed the Ghost Rider case closely, posted a copy of the court documents defining the legal stipulation -- or agreement between Friedrich's lawyers and Marvel's -- as a result of the writer's recent loss to the multi-million dollar entertainment company over the rights to the flame-headed, motorcycle-riding hero.
Friedrich sued Marvel, Columbia Pictures, Hasbro and other companies in 2007, alleging the copyrights used in the first "Ghost Rider" movie and related products reverted to him in 2001 because, he alleged, the publisher failed to register the character's first appearance in 1972's "Marvel Spotlight" #5 with the U.S. Copyright Office. The case took a few turns, with Marvel countersuing in 2010, seeking damages for the writer's unauthorized sale of Ghost Rider posters, T-shirts and cards online and at comic conventions.
In brief, the agreement lay out that Marvel will drop its countersuit if Friedrich agrees to pay $17,000 in damages, and ceases not only selling Ghost Rider-related items of his own creation but also promoting himself as the creator of the character for financial gain. Marvel did note Friedrich's right to sell his autograph on Ghost Rider merchandise, but only that officially created or licensed by the company's subsidiaries.
Aside from the obvious and decided victory for Marvel being the latest in a long line of cases in which the company has successfully argued that legal language stamped on the back of freelancer checks constitutes a binding work-for-hire contract, this judgment also brings up questions to the regularly-overlooked, and often vital, revenue stream of convention sales by comics creators. Every year, hundreds if not thousands of writers and artists earn a significant portion of their income by selling sketches, art commissions, art prints and other self-made product featuring the popular corporate characters fans associate with them. This practice is often overlooked by comics companies -- and in the case of Marvel, the publisher has in recent years taken to aiding current freelancers in creating officially licensed prints to sell at shows -- but with the judgment against Friedrich, the door is open to a future in which publishers demand profits or damages based on freelancer convention business.
Best notes in the comments for his original story that Friedrich is likely to appeal the overall decision, even as the stipulation on the $17,000 comes attached with a timeline whereby Marvel can reassert its trademark counterclaims within 90 days of February 6 if the writer doesn't comply with the terms.
CBR Staff Writer Kevin Melrose contributed to this story.