The Case Against Gary Friedrich

In case you haven’t heard, let’s get you up to speed:

Back in the 1970’s, writers and artists at Marvel were a “Work for Hire,” meaning they were paid as they were hired for the work they do. They had to sign contracts giving up their rights as creator and what-not – essentially allowing Marvel to generate all the proceeds over whatever characters are created via these WfH folks. This was done with Gary Friedrich in 1978.

Later in the 80’s, when Jim Shooter took over Marvel, he made sure all creators, writers and artists got their fair share when it came to royalties. Unfortunately, this was before Friedrich signed his contract.

Ghost Rider

In 2007, that Nic Cage “Ghost Rider” film popped up. It (somehow) made millions and Marvel collected big time. Friedrich sued Marvel claiming the character he created was exploited (as I’m sure the 1978 contract didn’t mention “major motion picture”) at the time. On December 28th, 2011, Friedrich lost his case against Marvel and that was to be the end of it. Alas.

Marvel counter-sued Friedrich over legal fees as well as unauthorized Ghost Rider material such as cards, postcards, shirts, and the kicker: sketches at conventions.

Marvel is demanding $17,000 in lost wages from Friedrich over his unlicensed use of their character. While I can understand that, let’s quote Jim Shooter here:

Gary Friedrich sued Marvel over rights to Ghost Rider. Gary lost. Marvel sued Gary for unauthorized exploitation of their trademarked Ghost Rider property. Gary lost. He is obliged to pay Marvel $17,000.

(Shooter also goes on to explain another great deal of legalities with the case that is quite interesting, so check that out too!)

Currently the internet is in an uproar of disgust towards Marvel (who remember is owned by Disney) for what they’re doing to Friedrich. Friedrich went on his Facebook to state:

Since the various news agencies and websites have reported the ruling against me on my claims against Marvel in the Ghost Rider lawsuit, and the assessment of a $17,000 judgment against me and my company instead, I have read an amazing amount of comments in my support on the internet, and have received many messages of support directly. Although the reports of my employment situation and financial difficulties as well as problems with my health are unfortunately true, I want to let everyone in the comic book world, especially my supporters and fans of the Ghost Rider character which I invented, created, and wrote, that I am going to appeal the Court’s ruling and continue to fight this as long as I am able and that your support of me means more than you will ever know. I have heard your voices. I thank you with alll my heart, and I appreciate your thoughts and best wishes as I soldier on.

Feel free to keep in touch with me via e-mail:

Thanks again and God bless you.

Gary Friedrich

Over at writer Steve Niles’ site, you can donate directly to Friedrich to help him out financially through a PayPal account set up for him.

But like I said – that kicker – no more sketches at conventions. While it’s not in place yet, it’s terrifying to know that at any time, these creators can be buckled down and told that they owe their parent companies money. Conventions have always been another way for a creator to get additional wages to their already-low pay. To take that away from them is down-right mean.

However, on the legal side of things, it’s considered right.

So is Marvel in the right? Is this going to be the new status quo for conventions now – the fear of creators getting sued for making extra cash on the side? If so, then what about fan art and things like Tumblr? I can only imagine it being a real-life SOPA for comic creators.

4 thoughts on “The Case Against Gary Friedrich

  1. dfstell

    Hey Derek,

    Nicely done. What I’m hoping is that Marvel and DC put into place a simple and straightforward trademark licensing system for artists wishing to do sketches and commissions. These can be easy, 1-2 page, “print it off the internet” types of programs. The going rate for this kind of license is going to be in the 5-10% range and that isn’t going to shut down the sketch business. No one even says that the trademark holder needs to be THAT fastidious about collecting.

    And, it isn’t just Marvel and DC. It’s Dark Horse and the Hellboy characters, Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead characters, Dave Sim and Cerberus, etc.

    The problem comes when a trademark holder wants to actually sue or stop someone who is doing something like selling bootleg T-shirts with Batman on them. It’s harder to enforce that trademark case when DC’s own artists are tweeting about the Batman sketches they do at conventions and editors are writing back and saying, “Cool!”. It’s one thing if the trademark holder can reasonably say that they weren’t aware of the activity, but I don’t think they can do that anymore.

    BUT….the good news is that I really doubt any of the trademark holders want to stop convention sketches. There might be a few jackass artists who they’d like to freeze out, but trademark holders DO get to choose who they work with.

    I’ve seen a lot of defending this based on the fact that sketches are “art” whereas bootleg t-shirts are “not art”. That’s just bogus. Both are products that someone produced for which money is changing hands partially due to the trademarked image on it.


    1. Funny about that Dean, Jim Shooter responded on his blog that I posted something along those lines:

      “What I mean is that a W4H penciler is selling his penciling, not his penciled pages, and not even the pencil marks that wind up on those pages. He is selling his time/effort, more or less, not the resulting end product created by his time/effort. The employer is for all intents and purposes the author of W4H work. It’s as if the entity called Marvel wrote and drew the first Ghost Rider story.”

      Followed by:

      “What if Disney/Marvel suspected that continuing to turn a blind eye to con sketching would invalidate all their trademarks? Let’s see…upset creators or risk rights issues? There are lots of creators, many out of work these days, some of whom would cheerfully observe a con sketch ban if it meant having a job.”

      I mean, he’s right. It’s just unfortunate that he’s right. Hell, if I was offered a job at Marvel or DC, I’d take it in a heartbeat, despite if those rules were in place. It’s just a really touchy subject that has finally been brought to the table.

      I know that the artist gets the first dibs on the art they drew for their story. Whether or not they’re allowed to sell that is now the debate.

      It’s a damn touchy subject.

  2. I can’t speak on other conventions, nor can I really go into the comic side of things, but as someone who frequents Toronto’s FanExpo and someone who only ventured to the comic section for the first time this past year, Artist Alley seems to be hugely popular and a large part of the expo and experience. I even had a blast and I am only starting to broaden my comic interest. I think a change like that could seriously affect fans desires to attend, especially since so many go with the intention of purchasing a commissioned piece of artwork. Although of course they will still attend, but there would be no need to buy a multi-day pass if you can get everything done in the first day.

  3. Bingo.

    The conventions have always acted as a second income to creators. The “people that be” are not the ones at the conventions – not the ones putting their life on the line (albeit that may be considered a bit dramatic for me to say) for making ends meet. The “people that be” are just trying to appease the shareholders.

    Not only would this case potentially set the stage for ruining the fun for everyone at conventions, but it would just make creators unhappy with their work.

    As I said above in the comments to Dean, Jim Shooter’s response is the frightening truth:

    “What if Disney/Marvel suspected that continuing to turn a blind eye to con sketching would invalidate all their trademarks? Let’s see…upset creators or risk rights issues? There are lots of creators, many out of work these days, some of whom would cheerfully observe a con sketch ban if it meant having a job.”

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