Marvel Must Defend ‘Ghost Rider’ Copyright, Court Says

Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Entertainment must go to trial to defend against a copyright claim by Gary Friedrich, who claims he created the comic book character “Ghost Rider,” a motorcycle-riding superhero with a flaming skull.

Friedrich claims he first came up with the idea for Ghost Rider in 1968, then assigned his rights to Marvel, which published the first “Ghost Rider” comic book in 1972. Friedrich claims in his suit that the rights to Ghost Rider automatically became his after the initial copyright term expired in 2000.

Marvell argued that Friedrich assigned his renewal rights to it in a work-for-hire agreement he signed in 1978. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Manhattan today reversed a lower-court ruling in favor of Marvel, granting Friedrich a trial on his claim.

“The agreement is ambiguous and there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding the parties’ intent to assign renewal rights in that agreement, the timeliness of Friedrich’s ownership claim, and the authorship of the work,” U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

In the suit, Friedrich seeks an unspecified share of the money made by Marvel on “Ghost Rider.”

In 2007, Sony Corp.’s Columbia Pictures Industries released a film version of “Ghost Rider,” starring Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes. The film took in $228.7 million in worldwide ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. A 2012 sequel, “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” made $132.6 million.

Jeff Klein, a Marvel spokesman with Dan Klores Communications, didn’t immediately respond to a voice-mail message seeking comment on the ruling.

The case is Gary Friedrich Enterprises LLC v. Marvel Characters Inc., 12-00893, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Manhattan).

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