Since everybody loves my Creators' Rights posts: per 20th Century Danny Boy, Gary Friedrich is making good on his plan to appeal the ruling on the Ghost Rider rights.
Quick recap: Friedrich sued Marvel for the rights to Ghost Rider, claiming he had never signed over his ownership stake in the character. (He co-created Ghost Rider with Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog, though he claims he created the character in 1968 and that Marvel failed to register the copyright for the published story in 1972.)
Marvel countersued, on the grounds that Friedrich was selling signed Ghost Rider prints -- and Friedrich is a writer, not an artist, keep in mind, so the art wasn't his work.
The suit ended in a Marvel victory, with Marvel agreeing to drop the countersuit in exchange for $17,000 as payment for the prints and Friedrich agreeing not to refer to himself as "the creator of Ghost Rider" for financial gain.
Friedrich is penniless and in poor health and, as you might expect, regardless of its legal merits this rankled a whole lot of fans and pros.
Speaking of which, you can buy a Generic, Non-Infringing Flaming Skull T-Shirt for $12 at World of Strange, with the proceeds going to Friedrich; the art is by Steve Bissette, Rick Veitch, Bob Burden, Billy Tackett, Nathan Thomas Milliner, Sam Flegal, and Denis St. John.
So now Friedrich is appealing the ruling.
The most interesting piece of new evidence he's introduced: a creator-owned Lee/Kirby Silver Surfer book from 1978. Why this is important, quoting Daniel Best:
At one point during Friedrich's deposition he was asked the following question: "Q. Are you aware of whether any other freelance writer of Marvel comic books owned the rights in any of the characters or stories created by that writer," in relation to the period of 1971 to 1978. The answer was no, and Marvel's lawyers accepted that, for the understanding in this case is that everything produced by Marvel in the 1970s at least, belonged to Marvel and was duly copyrighted. This isn't the case. In 1978 Marvel published The Silver Surfer, a graphic novel which contained a copyright legend naming not Marvel, but the books authors - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Importantly it falls on the cusp of the work-for-hire contracts, but a savvy lawyer might well be able to argue that Marvel did indeed produce work that was owned not by the company, but by the authors from the time period of 1971 to . Unfortunately this news might have come a bit late to be of any use to Gary Friedrich, but the battle isn't over yet.
The book seems like a pretty serious outlier; it was a case of Kirby, already unhappy with his work-for-hire situation with Marvel, pushing for a different arrangement (and indeed a different publisher, as the book was published by Simon and Schuster). I find it hard to believe that a court will rule that Friedrich's work on Ghost Rider was not necessarily for-hire just because Kirby and Lee put out a creator-owned book with a Marvel character six years later.
The previous ruling did hinge on Friedrich signing back-of-the-check contracts, and that sticks in my craw. Back-of-the-check contracts are coercive (you already did the work expecting to be paid for it, and the company only shows you an agreement to sign after the work is already done?) and I would very much like it if an appelate court determined that they are not legally binding.
But I still don't think that's going to help Friedrich. The judge in Marvel v Kirby determined that Kirby's work was for-hire based on the instance-and-expense test and stated outright that it was irrelevant whether he signed a back-of-the-check contract or not. Similarly, precedent doesn't necessarily favor Friedrich's "I created the character 4 years earlier" argument; even if he can prove it, the judge in Wolfman v Marvel ruled that the Blade character who appeared in Tomb of Dracula was so substantially different from Wolfman's original pitch as to constitute a distinct, work-for-hire creation.
In short: I don't think Marvel's in the right here ethically, but I don't think Friedrich's prospects look good legally. I hope I'm wrong and I hope he gets something out of this, but I'm concerned that he's doubling down on a losing hand.
Ideally, this would be settled out of court. Ideally, Marvel would open itself to renegotiation with its pre-1980 creators and allow them to get the same equity deals that current creators do (something that DC has done -- DC's not perfect but it's better than Marvel on this subject at this time). Ideally, Friedrich would get some small share of Ghost Rider comics and movies, and be satisfied and not feel the need to sue to get that piece.
But unfortunately I don't see any of that happening. I'm worried that Friedrich is going to be pounded into the concrete once again -- but if he does win, it'll be a great thing not just for him but for creators everywhere.