My first though upon hearing about this story was, “somebody’s really fighting for the rights of Ghost Rider?” But I digress.
In nerd-related courtroom news this week, federal appellant court Judge Danny Chin overturned a 2011 ruling that stated Marvel Comics owns the rights to the Ghost Rider character, and not original Ghost Rider author Gary Friedrich. Friedrich brought the appeal and after reviewing the case Judge Chin determined that the original contract Friedrich signed was “ambiguous on its face,” and needed further investigation before a final ruling.
Basically, what needs further investigation was whether or not the language in the contract, which was signed in 1978, covered the creation of Ghost Rider in 1972 as Marvel believes. Chin said that what had to be determined was “whether [the contract] covered a work published six years earlier” and “whether it conveys renewal rights.”
Friedrich had argued that the rights to the character reverted back to him in 2001 and brought suit against Marvel in 2007, coincidentally, the same year that the first Ghost Rider movie starring Nicolas Cage was released in theaters. When the case was ruled on in 2011 though, the judge at the time held up Marvel’s argument that Friedrich’s creation of Ghost Rider was covered in the ’78 “work-for-agreement” the writer signed, and thus he was not entitled to any of that sweet Hollywood back-end on Ghost Rider or its eventual sequel Spirits of Vengeance.
Joking aside though, this is an issue affecting many creators, up to and including Jack Kirby. Kirby’s estate has long fought for partial rights and/or royalties to certain characters he helped co-create for Marvel. So this case, which is now going back down the legal chain for a new trial, might have some pretty implications that go beyond Ghost Rider.