‘Ghost Rider’ Ownership Dispute Will Go to Trial

     (CN) – Marvel Enterprises may be liable for violating the copyright held by the creator of the “Ghost Rider” comic book, the 2nd Circuit ruled.
     Ghost Rider was first published in 1972, and the debut issue, as part of the Marvel Spotlight series, cost 20 cents. It told the story of Johnny Blaze, a super-powered motorcycle stunt rider who saved his adoptive father from cancer by selling his soul to the devil.
     The cover of the debut issue stated “conceived and written by Gary Friedrich.”
     Ghost Rider appeared in more than 300 comic books issued between 1972 and 2005, and also popped up in video games and toys. Hollywood released a film adaptation of “Ghost Rider,” starring Nicholas Cage, in 2007.
     Gary Friedrich sued Marvel, Hasbro, Sony Pictures, Mattel and dozens of others that year, alleging infringement of his copyrights on the burning-skulled, motorcycle-riding character.
     Marvel Characters Inc., one of the defendants, argued that it owned the rights to the character because Friedrich used the help of Marvel resources and staff in the creation of “Ghost Rider.”
     A federal judge in Manhattan agreed in 2012, saying Marvel deserved summary judgment because Friedrich signed a work-for-hire contract with it in 1978.
     U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest also awarded Marvel damages on its counterclaims over Friedrich’s use the phrase and picture of “Ghost Rider” on a poster.
     The 2nd Circuit vacated that decision Tuesday, however, and remanded the case for trial.
     “The Agreement is ambiguous on its face,” Judge Denny Chin wrote for a three-person panel. “First, the critical sentence defining the ‘Work’ covered by the agreement is ungrammatical and awkwardly phrased.”
     “Marvel relies heavily on the provision ‘grant(ing) to Marvel forever all rights of any kind and nature in and to the Work,'” Chin added. “In context, however, for the reasons discussed above, it is not clear whether this broad language applies to work performed by Friedrich some six years earlier.”

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