Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Gary Friedrich vs Marvel Comics: It Begins - Opening Appeal Brief
Right on time, here's the opening brief for Gary Friedrich, as filed in his appeal against the recent victory of Marvel Comics and the Ghost Rider character. As expected the appeal is relying on the ambiguity of the Marvel contracts, in particular the retro-active contracts that Marvel had their freelancers sign in 1978. If you believe Friedrich, those contracts were signed under some duress, with Friedrich stating in his deposition that, "I was given an agreement at that time by Sol Brodsky and told that if I wanted to continue to work for Marvel that I would have to sign it." That claim of duress isn't isolated to Gary Friedrich, other creators have said the same thing, some, such as Don McGregor, walked from Marvel instead of signing it back in the day, however for Friedrich it was a double blow - he signed the contract and stopped getting work at Marvel.
There is one minor fact that has been missed, a loophole that might come in handy at some stage. At one point during Friedrich's deposition he was asked the following question: "Q. Are you aware of whether any other freelance writer of Marvel comic books owned the rights in any of the characters or stories created by that writer," in relation to the period of 1971 to 1978. The answer was no, and Marvel's lawyers accepted that, for the understanding in this case is that everything produced by Marvel in the 1970s at least, belonged to Marvel and was duly copyrighted. This isn't the case. In 1978 Marvel published The Silver Surfer, a graphic novel which contained a copyright legend naming not Marvel, but the books authors - Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Importantly it falls on the cusp of the work-for-hire contracts, but a savvy lawyer might well be able to argue that Marvel did indeed produce work that was owned not by the company, but by the authors from the time period of 1971 to 1878. Unfortunately this news might have come a bit late to be of any use to Gary Friedrich, but the battle isn't over yet.
It's a small loophole, but it might be a dangerous one for Marvel...but, as it stands, the overall negative publicity that this case has generated for Marvel must surely be biting. The Brief addresses the contentious demand for $17,000 from Friedrich by Marvel, and challenges Marvels demand that Friedrich not profit from his status as the creator of Ghost Rider by pulling forth arguments about Friedrich's right to earn a living, as he has done in the past, by exploiting the Ghost Rider character by selling signed merchandise (merchandise, it's worth pointing out, was either donated or outright purchased by Friedrich). It might be too late for Marvel to settle the case quietly, but it could still save a lot of face by simply doing the right thing by it's creators - as it stands the stance towards it's old creators the Marvel Comics of 2012 has a lot in common with the DC Comics of the 1960s and '70s. That this is the case is more the shame - in a perfect world lawsuits such as these wouldn't be necessary as the creators would be sharing in the profits - even 1% of the gross would be more than enough for most. After all, if they won't hire the creators to work, then they do owe them a debt for giving them the means to make an empire - after all, even George Lucas shared the profits for Star Wars amongst the cast and crew.
In the meantime, here's the Opening Brief, and watch this blog for a few explosive documents from this case in the coming weeks, if not days...