All of the best superhero legends have a fantastic origin story of how they came to be icons; Captain America was once the scrawny, bullied wimp who wanted nothing more than to protect those he loved, Spider-man has great responsibility thrust upon him, and the X-men will always battle discrimination with hope of a brighter tomorrow. Unfortunately, the real world is not a comic fantasy; it’s ugly, brutal, and cruel. Even worse so is when the comics world and creators are forced to face these ugly truths of society. Such was the case when Gary Friedrich, the creator of the popular hero of the dark side of Marvel Comics – The Ghost Rider – opened up a lawsuit in 2007 against Marvel themselves, over a case of ownership rights to his character. Marvel, and all of comicsdom, are no strangers to lawsuits; the estate of Jacky “The King” Kirby has filed several suits claiming his creations were his family’s property. Friedrich, as well, believed, based on the contracts signed upon giving Marvel publishing rights, that Marvel was only able to create books and advertise the Rider, not create films and merchandise; he lost, of course, and the ruling was that Marvel owned all rights to Ghost Rider. This is not the ugly instance; no, this comes with Marvel’s retaliation years later. Friedrich, attending Comic Conventions like the creator he is, was found selling copies and prints of Ghost Rider material, and Marvel wasted no time in suing him over exactly what they were sued for just years prior. The case would end with Friedrich losing and Marvel deciding to sue creators and artists, who draw their characters and sell the pieces for profit, on the grounds of copyright claims. And, in the equivalent of Captain America’s tragic death on the stairs of the Supreme Court, this includes the artists that Marvels pays to draw their characters, whose names gloss the covers of comics sold weekly.
Certainly, copyright laws and claims are laws set in stone and clearly stated: no one can use someone else’s work and profit from it as their own. In the case of Marvel’s lawsuits, it may not have been an entirely wrong decision: just because Jim Lee is hailed as greatest X-men artist does not mean he “can” still draw them; he works for DC Comics now, Marvel does not pay him nor is he contracted. It is still morally wrong of Marvel to attack artists, as this is how they make their livings, but it is more legal of them to pursue. The back-handing comes with Marvel going after character creators like Friedrich, and artists that are currently employed by Marvel Comics. So, they are paid to draw these characters, have their names on the covers of these characters’ books, and Marvel can (and will) sue them for drawing the same character at a convention; people are being sued over their livelyhoods and passions.
From the Artists:
The artists, of course, are the party who suffers here. Marvel has nothing to lose; they’re owned by Disney, so a $75 sketch of the Winter Soldier done at a Comic-con is not exactly going to hurt them financially. Artists have a difficult enough time making ends meet as it is, and comic artists fair far worse, so commissions from fans are the best way to guarantee a steady income. Marvel is effectively taking that away from them. The case has spawned several actions from artists, centering around a union on the popular art/artist site DeviantArt, in which high-profile artists warn everyone to take not only a strike-esque stance against drawing Marvel characters, for profit or otherwise, but to protect themselves from the risk of being sued for triple what they could sell a piece for. Oddly enough, certain artists are not as hurt by Marvel’s actions as others; Robert Liefeld, creator and artist of Deadpool, Cable, and the original X-force, has stated “Not a single creator that has sued Marvel for creative compensation has succeeded. The list is getting longer. Know what you signed. I do not own Deadpool, Cable, X- Force—I get a generous payout on their exploitation, but I knew from day one, they are not mine. Period. I signed those deals when I was 21 years old. I knew that pennies on the dollar were better than no pennies at all. I was an eager young talent looking to change the game and the playing field, I did that through my creations. No regrets.” Of course, why should he care; he left for DC Comics the second an opportunity opened.
With the ball back in Marvel’s court following their suit against Friedrich, and rumors moving faster than Quicksilver, Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada appeased the writers of the news site Comic Book Movie with an interview, hoping to clear the air. However, their perspective offered did not exactly provide the clarity fans and artists hoped. Quesada stated that Gary “didn’t do it alone,” and that several Marvel affiliates “disagree with the claim that Gary was the sole creator.” Now Marvel has sued Friedrich, and smeared his word; they do not even want him taking credit for creation, let alone selling books with his name on them. They may have unintentionally offered their true intentions, though, in stating that Marvel “in no way wants to interfere with creators at conventions who are providing a positive Marvel experience for our fans.” So, it is perfectly fine to have fan and creator interaction, as long as Marvel gets proceeds whenever it happens; that, or they sue you.
The entire purpose of copyrighting material is to state that you own (usually all) aspects of a creative project. In fact, it is the Copyright Office’s mission statement to “promote creativity by administering and sustaining an effective national copyright system.” This statement is rather devalued when the fact that thousands of claims and lawsuits made over who owns copyright are made every year; Marvel suing a creator of one of its high-profile characters does not seem to be promoting creativity. The exact opposite is occurring, actually, with the DeviantArt “strike” against illustrating Marvel characters. What are the extents of copyright, anyway? Friedrich himself was not aware, as there were no plans for a Ghost Rider film and advertising, when he signed Marvel the rights to publishing his character. Copyright does nothing to benefit creators, it benefits whoever is currently in possesion of the rights to use them.
Topics for Smaller Papers:
- Copyright Laws work against the creators of projects
- Artists ability to draw copyrighted characters (i.e. those not in the public domain)
- Extent of Copyright Laws (Marvel’s creating a film a character they publish, but did not create)
- What it means to be a creator (does a creator have rights to use their character if they do not own him?)
State of the Paper:
The paper is well-underway at this point. The concept of the White Paper certainly aids the organization of thoughts and everything is being woven together better than expected. The issues may come in tying that weave tightly; while everything fits merely okay with loose transitions and having one issue lead to another, the culmination of them all to analyze the problem of Marvel suing it’s artists and explaining why its a major problem may be more difficult than intended. Of course, there is still much research and reading on the Laws of Copyright to be done, and that must be tackled before the paper can even be considered started. Nonetheless, I am quite confident that everything will work itself out when given the time.