Marvel has ensured that there won’t be any trial that puts its stake over “Ghost Rider” at risk.
On Friday, an attorney for comic book author Gary Friedrich informed a New York federal judge that a deal had been worked out with Marvel that would dismiss a long-running copyright case. The settlement agreement has not yet been fully executed, and the terms haven’t been made public, but in a letter to the court, Friedrich’s lawyer said that the parties “have amicably agreed to resolve all claims.”
The development comes three months after the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a victory for Marvel and set up a potential trial that would have examined whether Friedrich now owned the rights to Ghost Rider’s origin story from 1972′s Marvel Spotlight #5.
Working as a freelancer in the early 1970s, Friedrich introduced the motorcycle-riding superhero with supernatural powers and a flaming skull for a head.
At issue in the case was whether Friedrich contributed it as a “work made for hire,” which under copyright law, would mean that Marvel was deemed the author and Friedrich would have no entitlement to the copyright renewal term. Friedrich was one of many artists working under the so-called “Marvel Method” of creation, and Marvel argued that the Ghost Rider characters and story were created through a collaborative process with Marvel personnel and resources.
A federal judge ruled that the contracts that Friedrich had signed in the 1970s had handed rights to Ghost Rider to Marvel, but in June, an appeals court judge said those agreements were “ambiguous,” particularly one from 1978 that was meant to cover work detailing the origin story from six years earlier. The judge said wasn’t clear about the “parties’ intent.”
The appellate judge stopped short of handing Friedrich a full victory, however, because he also said “when construed in Marvel’s favor, the record reveals that Friedrich had nothing more than an uncopyrightable idea for a motorcycle-riding character when he presented it to Marvel because he had not yet fixed the idea into a tangible medium.”
A trial had been scheduled for early November, and would have likely explored Friedrich’s working environment in the early ’70s, and how much ownership the comic book author could take for what he contributed.
But a settlement, if executed, will head off such a showdown.
In recent years, the Ghost Rider character has been adapted into two films starring Nicolas Cage.