For anyone who thought that the Work for Hire clause, whether it was specified in a contract or stamped on the back of a check, was the final answer regarding creator’s rights; think again!
The battle for creator’s rights is experiencing a ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE of its own as issues once considered dead and buried by corporate gate keepers are raising their hoary heads and experiencing triumph against the devil himself.
Appropriately, Ghost Rider, the supernatural motorcyclist who sold his soul to the devil and consequently bursts into hellfire complete with a flaming skull whenever he encounters evil, has become the latest character championed by the challenge of his creator.
Gary Friedrich settled a deal with Marvel after the Second Court of Appeals decided that the work for hire contract signed in 1978 was ambiguous on the topic of copyright renewal.
His victory has highlighted the fact that there can be hope against what appears to be insurmountable odds especially after Marvel had knocked him down for the count and even won a countersuit against him for trademark violation seeking retribution of $17,000 for monies he made from selling autographed prints of Ghost Rider at comic conventions.
Never give up the fight!
Creator’s rights has been a battle going on in this industry since it began and every time the issue seems dead it claws back from the grave. Jerry Siegle and Joe Shuster were zombies extraordinaire. No creators fought back so frequently and so often reviving dead issues and achieving a number of victories along the way, than these two. Even after their own deaths their family still haunts DC and Warner Brothers with challenges.
The huge popularity of superheroes in film has certainly stirred the dead more than any other event. The immense profits made from films and merchandising of comic book characters that were unimaginable decades ago have breathed new vigor into aging creators who may have given up the fight long ago but now see the fortunes that are slipping through their fingers.
Suddenly a few of these stalwart underdogs have played a winning hand.
It is important to pay close attention to victories because they are often shrouded in secretive settlements that, though they may satisfy and reward the challenges of the creator are designed to ultimately protect the stake of the corporate holder. Terms of agreement that require secrecy lend little support to other challengers except to grant hope that they too can come to a settlement that will satisfy their unique complaint.
Stan Lee took Marvel to task in 2002 for royalties owed for characters he co-created. He was awarded a $10 million settlement in 2005 according to Marvel’s first quarter operating results that year. This of course begs to question, what about Steve Ditko and the Jack Kirby estate?
Archie Comics settled with Ken Penders regarding rights to the characters he created while working on stories for Sonic the Hedgehog and Knuckles comics. His characters have shown up in reprints, comics, and video games. Victory in hand, he now has his sights set on Sega and Electronic Arts. Sega would not event participate with Archie in the original proceedings making Archie’s defense more laughable than it was. Penders plans to utilize the characters he created in a graphic novel series entitled The Lara-Su Chronicles.
Jim Starlin’s relationship has seemed so warm and fuzzy with Marvel since it was revealed that Thanos, a character he created, would be a major player in the Avengers film franchise as well as the Guardians of the Galaxy. Little has been made public, but one can only assume that a settlement has been reached since Starlin can prove that he created Thanos before he even came to work for Marvel.
Recently, in a congratulatory comment to Gary Friedrich made via Facebook and Twitter, artist Bob Layton publicly stated that he and David Michelinie had settled with Marvel over rights issues to a character created during their long run on Iron Man.
Does this activity indicate that the tide is turning? Is it possible the the courts are finally recognizing what we have known for years; that creators of intellectual property in the comic industry have been grossly taken advantage of? Is public sentiment starting to influence the position of the courts and the corporations? Is the work for hire practice of the major comic companies finally damaging the value of their good will?
A lot of creators have been cheated over the decades. A lot of challenges have laid buried beneath heaps of residue from corporate greed, abuse and the creator’s fear of reprisal.
There is a tremor now. That which was once thought dead is rising from the loosened earth. Like the Ghost Rider, injustice is igniting its fury. A new day is coming and that which was dead will be no more. Creator’s Rights will rise like the undead and the APOCALYPSE will be waged upon corporate greed.