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.
OK, this one is for you law aficionados.
Comic book artist, writer and editor Jack Kirby is a name almost every nerd is familiar with. Alongside Stan Lee, he was the co-creator for some of the biggest names in the industry. The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, the Hulk. He even helped create Captain America with Joe Simon. After his passing in 1994 the heirs of Kirby estate served notices of termination to Walt Disney Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, Paramount Pictures, and Sony Pictures to attempt to regain control of various Silver Age Marvel characters. However, in mid-March 2010 Kirby’s estate also “sued Marvel to terminate copyrights and gain profits from Jack’s comic creations.”
A New York federal judge ruled today that the heirs of the late Jack Kirby have no legal claim to the copyrights of any of those characters. Judge Colleen McMahon issued a 50-page decision stating that regardless of whether Kirby was the creator or co-creator of said work (which he was), she determined his labors were performed as work-for-hire under the provisions of the Copyright Act of 1909. What this means to us that don’t understand legal mumbo-jumbo- it translates to Marvel owns the rights to the creations, not the artist themselves.
From McMahon’s decision:
“At the outset, it is important to state what this motion is not about. Contrary to recent press accounts [including two pieces in the New York Times], this case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real ‘creator’ of Marvel characters, or whether Kirby (and other freelance artists who created culturally iconic comic book characters for Marvel and other publishers) were treated ‘fairly’ by companies that grew rich off the fruit of their labor. It is about whether Kirby’s work qualifies as work-for-hire under the Copyright Act of 1909, as interpreted by the courts, notably the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. If it does, then Marvel owns the copyright in the Kirby Works, whether that is ‘fair’ or not. If it does not, then the Kirby Heirs have a statutory right to take back those copyrights, no matter the impact on recent corporate acquisition or on earnings from blockbuster movies made and yet to be made.”
(Post by nerdbastards contributor Melissa Fouch Machowski)
According to the Associated Press, Roman Polanski’s petition to have his contraversial case dismissed has been rejected.Who here is surprised? Not me. Call me crazy, but getting away with something for a really long time doesn’t mean you should just…well…get away with it. IT being rape, afterall.
The California 2nd District Court of Appeal announced Monday it had denied the petition. — Lake County Record-Bee
Interestingly, this news coincides with several updates today about the progress of “Ghost“, the movie Polanski is finishing up while on house arrest in Switzerland. Don’t cry for Polanski when you hear the term “house arrest”, please. Just check out this little blurb about the grueling conditions the alleged rapist must endure:
Being able to entertain at home was one of the privileges the director received after his Dec. 4 transfer to house arrest from a Swiss jail after more than 60 days of detention.
Polanski has to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle to guard against his leaving the grounds of the chalet, but he is able to receive guests inside or outside the house, work on his films, make telephone calls and send e-mails as much as he likes. — The Star Tribune
We’ll be watching closely as this case unfolds. Maybe we’ll even get an invite to the chalet!