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Marvel wins dispute over Ghost Rider rights

December 29, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
A judge ruled that comic book publisher Marvel Entertainment owns the rights to the Ghost Rider character.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest made the ruling Wednesday, rejecting 4-year-old claims brought by former Marvel worker Gary Friedrich, who said he created the motorcycle-driving Ghost Rider of the 1970s with the skeletal head that sometimes had fire blazing from it.

A Ghost Rider of the 1950s and 1960s was a Western character who rode a horse.

Forrest said Friedrich gave up all ownership rights when he signed checks containing language relinquishing all rights to the predecessor companies of Marvel Entertainment LLC.

"The law is clear that when an individual endorses a check subject to a condition, he accepts that condition," the judge wrote.

The judge also said Friedrich signed an agreement with Marvel in 1978 relinquishing rights in exchange for the possibility of additional future freelance work. He had worked for Marvel prior to that year as both an employee and as a freelance writer.

Friedrich apparently began seeking legal representation about 12 years ago when he found out that there were plans for new uses of the Ghost Rider character, including movies.

In 2007, when the film "Ghost Rider" starring actor Nicolas Cage as stunt motorcyclist Johnny Blaze came out, Friedrich sued Marvel in East St. Louis, Ill., seeking to assert his rights and gain compensation for use of the character in movies, video games, toys and promotional products.

The lawsuit was moved to New York. The movie credited Marvel as the author of the Ghost Rider characters and story. A movie sequel, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," is scheduled to be released in February.

At a deposition in St. Louis last year, Friedrich testified that he stopped doing freelance comic book writing in 1978 when his alcoholism got "completely out of control."

He said he became sober in January 1979.

He said he thought he had given Marvel the rights to use Ghost Rider in comic books, but that he retained the rights for movies and anything else.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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