There has long been a debate in the comic book world about what’s fair as far as creator’s rights are concerned. If you self-publish or work for one of the smaller companies, it’s possible to maintain the rights to any characters that you create while working in comics. If you want to work for one of the big guys like DC or Marvel, however, what you’re doing is work for hire. That means you’re just an employee of said company and any of the characters that you create while writing a Marvel or DC book are not your property, but the property of the company.
While young comic creators are more than happy to agree to terms like this when they’re starving and hungry for work, regrets can sometimes develop later on if a character gets popular and starts to bring in huge amounts of revenue. This is especially true now that comic book properties are routinely being developed into big budget films that bring in hundreds of millions of dollars. DC has famously had troubles dealing with the estates of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster, who have been trying to get back control of the Superman pie for many years, and recently Marvel has had its own batch of troubles thanks to a man named Gary Friedrich.
Friedrich worked as a freelancer for the House of Ideas back in the early 70s, and part of his output was the creation of a character named Ghost Rider, a motorcycle stuntman who gets possessed by a hell spawn and develops a flaming skull for a head. Friedrich seemed content to let Marvel do what they would with his character for a large number of years, but once the character was made into a profitable film starring Nicolas Cage back in 2007, suddenly he came out of the woodwork looking for his cut.
Friedrich’s claim was that, though he had signed away the rights to publish the Ghost Rider character in the world of comic books to Marvel, any other places in which the character appeared should see rights reverting to him. Meaning, hand over some of that $230 million that Ghost Rider made.
Alas, it was not meant to be for the creator, as Wednesday a New York judge took a look at Friedrich’s contracts with Marvel and declared that the character belonged to the company and not the man, whether it was fair or not. As a matter of fact, the judge said that the legitimacy of Marvel’s claims “could not be clearer.” This means that Marvel’s upcoming Ghost Rider sequel Spirit of Vengeance can now be released without Marvel Studios having to worry about being forced into any sort of profit sharing, and Friedrich is still out on his ass, only earning whatever he made back in the early 70s for creating such a prolific character.
What are your feelings about this issue? Is “work for hire” a scam that should be made a thing of the past? Or is signing over your ideas to your employer just the price that has to be paid if you want to work in the big leagues of the comic world? Personally, I’d like to hear what comic book super-fan Nic Cage has to say on the matter. [THR]