Gary Friedrich, the creator of Marvel Comics' demonic motorcyclist Ghost Rider, has been ordered by a judge to renounce his creator credit and pay $17,000 in damages to his former employer following a court battle that began in 2007 disputing legal ownership of the character. The news comes from the blog of Daniel Best, who has posted official documentation of the judge's orders that effectively prohibit Friedrich from claiming to have created Ghost Rider or selling any unlicensed Ghost Rider-related merchandise of his own creation at conventions.As CBR sums up, in 2007 Friedrich sued Marvel and pretty much everyone else involved with the first Ghost Rider movie for using a character whose copyrights had allegedly reverted to him for his work on Marvel Spotlight #5 (Ghost Rider's first comic appearance) since Marvel failed to register the issue with the U.S. Copyright Office. Marvel countersued in 2010 and sought damages against Friedrich for selling Ghost Rider merchandise of his own creation to the tune of $17,000.

Marvel has agreed to drop this countersuit provided Friedrich pays the $17,000 and discontinues using his creator credit for financial gain. The arrangement would allow the creator to continue to sign licensed Ghost Rider merchandise, however.

Friedrich can appeal the case, should he chose to do so. He currently has until May 6 to decide whether to accept Marvel's terms. Meanwhile, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the second GR film staring actor Nicolas Cage, opens in theaters on February 17. Marvel declined official comment regarding the case.

The ruling comes at a time when several creators or their heirs are engaged in legal battles with publishers over character ownership due to contractual complexities and the complications that can arise in a shifting publishing landscape over time. Some rulings, such as the recent conclusion of Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane's dispute over characters created for an issue of Spawn, find amicable (if long in the making) endings, or at least get settled. Higher profile cases, such as those being argued by the heirs of Jack Kirby and Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel's stem from arguably simpler creator/publisher agreements that many consider unfair by the legal and/or ethical standards of today.

Friedrich's case is unique in that he didn't distinctly dispute the initial work-for-hire deal he'd struck with Marvel in 1972. Rather, the Ghost Rider creator has sought to reclaim the character that, he argued, Marvel failed to properly retain. Friedrich also profited from unlicensed merchandise before a clear court ruling regarding character ownership had been made. Friedrich's $17,000 penalty for doing so may have dramatic implications for creators of all kinds, who often supplement their income with unlicensed artwork such as sketches, prints, scripts and other material based on their work.

[Via CBR]

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