Eight jurors will decide this fall if Marvel actually owns the copyright to Ghost Rider or not. That was the order (read it here) issued today by a federal judge who set trial for November 4. The decision by District Judge Katherine Forrest in NYC comes just over two weeks after the Second Court of Appeals overturned a 2011 ruling of hers in Marvel’s favor in the legal battle with former freelancer Gary Friedrich over the fiery motorcycle-riding superhero. Marvel’s lawyers indicated today in a courtroom conference meeting on the case that while they will not challenge the Appeals Court decision, they would seek to have the case handled without a jury in a motion to be filed at a later date.
Friedrich first filed his suit against Marvel, Columbia TriStar, Relativity Media and others back in 2007, claiming that he owned the renewal term copyrights on the character and his origin story. The writer came up with the initial comic book idea for the Ghost Rider character 41 years ago, though Marvel claims it was part of a collaborative process. Friedrich filed his suit the very year the first Ghost Rider movie starring Nicolas Cage came out. In late 2011, just as the second Ghost Rider movie was about to be released, Judge Forrest ruled for Marvel and the other defendants.
They thought they’d won it but now Marvel will have to defend itself again over who owns Ghost Rider. A federal appeals court today overturned a 2011 ruling in Marvel’s favor which means former freelancer Gary Friedrich can take his copyright case to trial. “We conclude that the district court erred in granting summary judgment because the Agreement is ambiguous and there are genuine disputes of material fact regarding the parties’ intent to assign renewal rights in that Agreement, the timeliness of Friedrich’s ownership claim, and the authorship of the work,” wrote Judge Danny Chin in a ruling (read it here) from the Second Court of Appeals today. Friedrich, who came up with the original idea for the Ghost Rider character back in 1972, first filed his suit against Marvel, Columbia Tri-Star, Relativity Media and more back in 2007 claiming that he owned the renewal term copyrights on the character and his origin story. The initial suit was filed the same year the first Ghost Rider movie starring Nicolas Cage came out. Not that everything is clear in Friedrich’s favor from today’s ruling. “We agree with the district court that there are genuine disputes of material fact that preclude granting summary judgment on the issue of authorship,” said the ruling as it also rejected the plaintiff’s motion today.