Karen: As I am sure many of you have heard by now, former Marvel Comics writer Gary Friedrich had sued Marvel claiming he had ownership rights to Ghost Rider. Friedrich has been successfully counter-sued by Marvel/Disney, who are now seeking $17,000 from Friedrich; the writer is reportedly destitute. Comics Beat published an article which explains the situation pretty well.
Doug: One of the issues involved is Friedrich's sale of Ghost Rider/Marvel related goods at conventions and appearances. Marvel/Disney is hacked off that Friedrich has been able to make a buck (regardless of how modest his income would be in relation to the multi-million dollar empire that is Marvel Comics) selling items to which he has no legal title.
Karen: The question of who actually created the Ghost Rider character has been much debated in the past. It seems clear that Friedrich, artist Mike Ploog, and editor Roy Thomas all had a hand in it. But of course, they did it during the work for hire era, and technically none of them own the character. However, regardless of that, Marvel's action in demanding $17,000 from Friedrich seems not only petty but incredibly stupid. That sum is nothing to them, and everything to Friedrich. I can only conclude that Marvel is doing this to send a message to other artists and writers out there, to prevent any further suits.
Doug: Of course Marvel's much larger, and more public, litigation is against the Kirby estate.
Karen: But the legal department should have spoken to the PR group first. Here they have three Marvel films coming out this year, and now they are faced with bad publicity, to the extent that people are calling for boycotts. Dumb move, particularly in the time of the 99% vs. the 1%. Marvel comes off as just another greedy corporation, wringing blood from the poor worker.
Karen: I can only hope that someone at Marvel will show both business sense and some ethics and say, "Let's drop this thing." It should be enough for them that Friedrich not only lost his suit, but cannot sell anything with a Marvel character on it. Don't grind the man into the dirt too.
Doug: When I read creator biographies that talk about the writers and artists taking on book after book, and how to them it was just a job... This just sounds like that. These guys were trying to put bread on their tables; that there would ever be royalties or profit-sharing wasn't even on their radar screens, so they did their jobs with pride and hoped that they'd get another assignment. Neal Adams worked diligently to change these conditions. In the midst of all of this, the anecdote that Roy Thomas really didn't create any substantial characters while at Marvel -- he often re-tooled existing properties -- seems to make sense. Roy knew that anything he did that might "take off" would be owned by "The Man" (and I don't mean Stan). To a degree, this seems an awful lot like the Siegel and Shuster mess at DC.
Doug: On the other hand, all of these creators did sign contracts...