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The Ghost Rider Ownership Case Gets Fuzzier

A little over a year ago, a judge ordered Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich to renounce any claim to the character and fork over $17,000 to Marvelfor selling unlicensed Ghost Rider memorabilia at conventions. Now, the tables may have turned.
Tuesday, the Second Circuit Court of appeals overturned that ruling, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The new ruling says the contracts Friedrich signed in 1978 granting Marvel “all rights of any kind and nature in and to the Work” are “ambiguous” and make no mention of copyright renewal. What that means is that the ownership of Ghost Rider, which Marvel believed to be settled, could be decided at trial.

Friedrich largely left comics in the late 1970s but returned to the spotlight in 2007, when he sued Marvel and many of the people involved in the making of the first Ghost Rider film. He argued then that the copyright on the character, who first appeared in 1972’s Marvel Spotlight #5, had reverted back to him.

Judge Denny Chin, who made Tuesday’s ruling, said there is “a genuine dispute” over ownership of Ghost Rider, in part because Friedrich signed his contract with Marvel six years after Marvel Spotlight #5 was published.

“It is doubtful the parties intended to convey rights in the valuable Ghost Rider copyright without explicitly referencing it,” he said of the contract. “It is more likely that the Agreement only covered ongoing or future work.”

Marvel has some options for its defense, though. If Marvel could prove that the creation of Ghost Rider was a collaborative effort, not Friedrich’s sole work, then Ghost Rider would be considered “work for hire,” and therefore Marvel’s.

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