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April 10, 2007

Branding: Ghost Rider Creator is Flaming Mad

News broke early this morning that Gary Friedrich, the creator of Ghost Rider, is suing Marvel Enterprises, Sony Pictures and “several entities” over their “joint venture and conspiracy to exploit, profit from and utilize" the Johnny Blaze and Ghost Rider names and concepts.

ghostrider.jpgThe picture has already taken in close to a quarter billion dollars worldwide. Friedrich says the Ghost Rider copyright reverted to him in 2001 after Marvel Entertainment failed to register the trademarks with the copyright office after holding them since 1971.

He has chosen this time to make clear his dissatisfaction with Marvel’s use of the Ghost Rider character and brand, alleging that he has not received compensation for various endeavors such as games, toys and novels.

This news comes just as Sony announces the forthcoming June 12th release of a new Ghost Rider Blu-ray DVD with an impressive array of extra features.

Friedrich accuses Marvel of copyright infringement and also accuses the company of “waste” for failing "to properly utilize and capitalize” on the Ghost Rider name and its related copyrights, which he feels damages the value of his work. He also thinks that Hasbro and video game maker Take-Two Interactive improperly created merchandise for the characters.

Apparently Friedrich is not thrilled with what these companies are offering and feels Marvel took “inadequate” royalties from them.

It’s an interesting legal battle because it seems as if Friedrich waited too long to give notice that his rights were being infringed (it's been known the Ghost Rider was on the way for months now). What seems to shine through is that his real problem is that he, along with many critics, doesn’t like the movie or its related products, and thus feels, somehow, that the Ghost Rider brand name is being lessened.

ghost_rider.gifThe proof is in the pudding, however: the Ghost Rider movie seems to be a genuine success and Sony’s handling of the brand, therefore, seems to be in order. Friedrich’s claim of “tortuous interference with prospective business expectancy” seems to be pretty wild.

But whether Marvel has infringed on his copyrights, well, that’s a whole different story. According to Wikipedia, Friedrich claimed in 2001 that he would sue Marvel if they made a movie out of Ghost Rider, and now he’s following through, and it is indeed worthy to note that Marvel only sporadically offered Ghost Rider comics since 2001.

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Posted by William Lozito at April 10, 2007 10:37 AM
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This is pretty confusing. For a branding guy, I've noticed you have a real hard time with the difference between trademarks and copyrights. From a legal perspective there's a ton of difference.

First, it's unclear what they failed to do to register with the copyright office. If it's the trademark, that's registered with the USPTO, and even if the federal registration lapsed, it's likely that that geographic scope is large enough to encompass the US anyway.

However, if you mean the renewal term of the copyright, that would be a painful situation for Sony, however, it's unclear how the timeline adds up. And, if the original copyright actually was created after 1964, renewal is automatic, and since the author is still alive, I doubt there's a vesting issue.

Finally, if the complaints are trademark-related and not copyright, then that's a whole other thing.

Wonderful comment.

This makes me glad I'm a branding guy instead of a lawyer.

Actually, I don't think that William has a hard time with the difference between trademarks and copyrights, given that his business is all about that aspect of marketing.

The post, and the linked news articles, clearly state that this is a copyright issue. Friedrich is suing Marvel for "copyright infringement." This is due to the fact that Marvel failed to register various copyrights related to the Ghost Rider character, image, concept and so forth.

Trademarks, as William is surely well aware, are actually "marks", like, logos or brand names. I would imagine they have not been trademarked by anyone. The Ghost Rider has gone through many incarnations in the last few decades, and Marvel probably decided that Friedrich's claim would not hold up in court because what he originally gave to Marvel and what Marvel is now offering the public are so very different.

However, the NAME Ghost Rider and the NAME Johnny Blaze are clearly Friedrich's, if he has the copyright on these as well as the "flaming head" that is, in a sense, the GR's trademark. Marvel is also probably going to say that most of GR was created while Friedrich was essentially in Marvel’s employ, and this probably means that copyright for tweaks to the GR revert to Marvel in that case.

It will be hard for Friedrich, for example, to prove that HE alone invented the idea of the flaming head. Or that that flaming head is the same as Marvel’s flaming head or indeed that readers associate “flaming head” with the name Ghost Rider given that the company has provided other incarnations of a ghostly bike rider.

But Marvel has stayed away from the GR for six years now, and took the chance here because even if they lose, the payout to Friedrich will be pretty minimal—this is why he is trying to say they are “wasting” his copyrights and their actions make it harder for him to make money from his GR character.

He probably, I would think, was told by a lawyer that the movie was a stinker and thus would fail and thus would besmirch the GR name. In fact, the movie may be a critical stinker but audiences love it and the GR is likely to be riding high for quite a while.

Frankly, I would bet my own soul that this settled out of court with a big whopping golden hug. Even $5 mil would be a bargain. Make it $10 mil aand Marvel wouldn't even feeel it.

He'll take it, too. Friedrich ain’t getting any younger.


Thanks for adding to the conversation. You've made some helpful points of clarification.

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