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Writer Ratchets Up|Fight Over ‘Ghost Rider’

MANHATTAN (CN) - Discovery is winding down in a copyright suit by the creator of the "Ghost Rider" comic-book series, who says that Marvel Enterprises and dozens others shut him out of a critically panned 2007 movie adaptation that starred Nicolas Cage.

Several more months of discovery is a blip in the radar for writer Gary Friedrich's lawsuit, which he filed four years ago in Illinois.

A Manhattan federal judge who caught the case in 2008 limited the scope of the remaining discovery in an order filed last week.

According to a 64-page amended complaint, Friedrich says that there is no dispute that he conceived and authored the Faustian storyline of "Ghost Rider," which follows motorcycle stunt-rider Johnny Blaze who promises his soul to the devil in exchange for the life of his adoptive father, who is dying of cancer.

Blaze ultimately keeps his soul but acquires demonic powers that transform him into a fiery skeleton at nightfall. Readers follow Blaze as he tries to resist his dark impulses to use his powers for good.

Friedrich says Marvel Enterprises and dozens of other companies nevertheless used his storyline for an unauthorized film adaptation. "Ghost Rider," a 2007 film starring Nicolas Cage, was a critical disappointment, but still earned $228 million worldwide. A sequel is scheduled for release in February 2012.

"[I]n and before 2007, encouraged, spearheaded and joined by the Marvel companies, a group of major entertainment industry players including Defendants Sony, Hasbro, and the below named Downstream Infringers joined together to use, copy, exploit and profit from the Plaintiffs' Characters and Origin Story without any authorization or compensation," according to the complaint.

"They have sold, promoted, and marketed a full-length feature film, action figures, video games, and various products based on, featuring, copying, and utilizing the Ghost Rider and related characters and the Origin Story, all without any authorization of Plaintiffs."

Friedrich's copyright suit is currently in discovery, and the defendants have turned over more than 34,000 pages of documents.

Claiming that Marvel was still holding out, Friedrich filed several more demands for documents.

U.S. Magistrate Judge James Francis IV overruled several of those objections in an 11-page order last Thursday, limiting the scope of most - but not all - of Friedrich's discovery.

"Many of the plaintiffs' requests are overbroad, burdensome, or request irrelevant information. To the extent that the defendants have provided limited responses to some of these requests, their limitations are appropriate," the April 26 order states.

But the order also forces the defendants to pass on other documents that they sought to protect.

The defendants have 30 days to comply with the order.

Although the judge dismissed a request for the defendants' computer backup tapes, he allowed Friedrich to refile his request because the issue was "not ripe for determination."

Friedrich's attorney, Dawn O'Leary, told Courthouse News that discovery, which was originally slated to end on July 1, will now continue for "several months" longer.

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