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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks again and God bless you.
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.