Update: 30 Days of Night creator Steve Niles has started a donation page for fans to help support Gary Friedrich.
Lawsuits are all too common in the entertainment industry. As soon as a property becomes a product worth millions, people come out of the woodwork with claims to its fortune. A lot of the time, these are lawsuits wherein an aspiring writer with an inconvenient lack of evidence asserts their idea was stolen. There are times, however, when the victim in question has a legitimate, undeniable claim to a property, but contracts and the strict letter of the law denies it to them. That's the ongoing struggle writer Gary Friedrich currently finds himself in.
Basically, Friedrich created the character of Ghost Rider for Marvel in the '70s. It's not a matter of dispute, it's just a fact. Marvel owns the rights to the character and has ever since Friedrich signed his creation over to them three decades ago. However, before the first Ghost Rider film was released, Friedrich sued all involved under the belief that while Marvel undoubtedly owned the comic rights, he owned the film rights and should be involved both creatively and financially. He lost that lawsuit. That's not where things ended, though.
Friedrich has since made no further claims to the ownership of the character, he has, however, attempted to rightfully claim authorship of him in his private life. He's attended comics conventions and the likes as a paid guest, using his status as the creator of an iconic comic (and now film) character as his main source of income now that he's 68 years old. However, Marvel is still demanding in a court of law that Friedrich pay them the approximately $17,000 he's earned in retirement by acknowledging he's the creator of Ghost Rider.
Yes, you read that correctly. Marvel, a company that was recently purchased by Disney for $4 billion, is demanding that the person who created one of its most iconic and enduring characters - a person who is now 68 years old and is more or less broke after years of legal struggle - pay them his remaining $17,000 for having the gall to make money off of his history with the character.
Obviously Marvel has every right to prevent Friedrich, or any other artist who sold one of their creations to the company, from trying to steal their profits by exercise ownership over the character and, for example, selling new comics, but that's not what he's doing. All Friedrich is doing is exercising his authorship of the character. To try and legally squelch him from doing even that is just downright petty. And yet that's exactly what they're seeking with this new court ruling. Not only are they demanding the money, which is barely enough to even buy a new car these days, but they're demanding that Friedrich be legally prohibited from saying he even created the character if there is any conceivable way he can gain from stating such facts.
Sure, there's little question to the legality of what Marvel is doing, but what about the morality of it? Does it make you view Marvel any differently? Will it have any impact on whether or not you pay to go see Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance knowing that not a fraction of a penny of your ticket price will end up in Friedrich's bank account, or that you won't even see his name in the credits?