Dec. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Walt Disney Co.’s Marvel Entertainment won a second challenge over the ownership of its comic book characters, with a New York judge dismissing claims from the creator of “Ghost Rider” of copyright infringement.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan ruled yesterday that Gary Friedrich, who conceived and wrote the 1972 story of the motorcycle-riding character with a blazing skull for a head, signed over all rights to the character to Marvel in 1971 and again in 1978.
“Either of those contractual transfers would be sufficient to resolve the question of ownership,” Forrest wrote. “Together, they provide redundancy to the answer that leaves no doubt as to its correctness.”
Copyright challenges to Marvel characters from their creators have threatened to undermine Marvel’s movie projects based on those creations. “Ghost Rider,” a 2007 film starring Nicolas Cage, grossed $115.8 million in the U.S. and Canada, according to researcher Box Office Mojo. A sequel is scheduled to be released next year.
In July, U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon in Manhattan dismissed an ownership claim to the Incredible Hulk and X-Men by the heirs of Jack Kirby, the superheroes’ co-creator.
Kirby, who died in 1994, also created or co-created the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. His heirs said their father was a freelance artist paid by the page who received no benefits from Marvel. Stan Lee, who worked for Marvel as an editor, is credited as co-author of the Hulk.
McMahon said Kirby’s creations were works-for-hire and as such belonged to Marvel.
Forrest, in her ruling, said she didn’t need to determine whether the Ghost Rider was a work-for-hire because it was clear Friedrich granted Marvel the rights to the character in his contracts.
The case is Gary Friedrich Enterprises v. Marvel Enterprises, 08-cv-01533, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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