While fans might have a lot of concerns with the Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor-directed sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, they can now remove “legal battle over property rights” from that list. After the first Ghost Rider film debuted in 2007, comic book author and co-creator Gary Friedrich was none too pleased. In 1971, Friedrich, also known for his work on Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos, was a freelancer working for Marvel. Absent from the comics world for decades since then, Friedrich popped up to raise a rights issue in 2004 when Marvel had announced plans to release the first Ghost Rider film. Yesterday, less than two months from the February 17th release of the sequel, a New York federal judge ruled that Ghost Rider is a Marvel property, case closed. Or maybe not. Hit the jump for more on this case.
THR originally reported on the assertion of Ghost Rider rights to Marvel over Friedrich. Although Marvel normally sites the “Marvel Method” of creation in rights disputes (a stance that claims the property in question was createdby a hired team of compensated individuals; artist, writers, etc.), that wasn’t necessary in this particular case. Judge Katherine Forrest was quoted as saying there was no need to:
“travel down the rabbit hole of whether the Character and Work were in fact originally created separate and apart from Marvel, whether they are a ‘work for hire,’ or whether during an initial conversation in which Friedrich obtained consent to proceed with the project that eventually became the Work, he had thoughts about what rights he might want to retain.”
The reason that none of this litigious meandering was necessary was due to two contracts cited by Forrest. Firstly, Friedrich gave rights in exchange for payment for the initial creation of Ghost Rider.
A second, and more damning contract, was signed by Friedrich in 1978 which granted “to Marvel forever all rights of any kind and nature in and to the Work.” I’m not a lawyer or anything but that sounds pretty solid to me. Forrest agrees, saying:
“Either of those contractual transfers would be sufficient to resolve the question of ownership. Together, they provide redundancy to the answer that leaves no doubt as to its correctness.”
Although Friedrich had been writing stories for Marvel’s current iteration of Ghost Rider that was created decades earlier, he did become instrumental for turning the anti-hero into the flame-skulled motorcycle rider we’re so fond of today. Otherwise we would have been left with this ghostly cowboy that looks like a Scooby-Doo villain reject. This may not be the end of the rights dispute as Friedrich is able to appeal, but no comment has come out of his camp as of yet. In the meantime, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance should be free to wreak havoc in theaters when it releases on February 17th. Click here to see our previous coverage and check back soon for lots more.
Here’s the official synopsis for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance:
Nicolas Cage returns as Johnny Blaze in Columbia Pictures’ and Hyde Park Entertainment’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. In the successor to the worldwide hit Ghost Rider, Johnny – still struggling with his curse as the devil’s bounty hunter – is hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe when he is recruited by a secret sect of the church to save a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the devil (Ciaran Hinds). At first, Johnny is reluctant to embrace the power of the Ghost Rider, but it is the only way to protect the boy – and possibly rid himself of his curse forever. Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor. Screenplay by Scott M. Gimple & Seth Hoffman and David S. Goyer. Story by David S. Goyer. Based on the Marvel Comic. Produced by Steven Paul, Ashok Amritraj, Michael De Luca, Avi Arad, and Ari Arad.