LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter, ESQ.) - The creator of Ghost Rider has sued Marvel Enterprises, Sony Pictures Entertainment and several entities over what he claims is an unauthorized "joint venture and conspiracy to exploit, profit from and utilize" his copyrights to the comic book character.
Gary Friedrich and his company filed the 61-page complaint April 4 in federal court in Illinois claiming 21 violations based on the production and marketing of Sony's recent "Ghost Rider," starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes. Friedrich claims the copyrights used in the film and in related products reverted from Marvel to him in 2001.
The defendants include Sony's Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, producers Relativity Media, Crystal Sky Pictures and Michael De Luca Prods. as well as Hasbro Inc. and Take-Two Interactive.
Friedrich alleges copyright infringement, and accuses Marvel of waste for failing "to properly utilize and capitalize" on the Ghost Rider character. Marvel's attempts to do so, Friedrich claims, have only damaged the value of his work by failing to properly promote and protect the characters and by accepting inadequate royalties from co-defendants. Friedrich also claims that toymaker Hasbro and videogame firm Take-Two have improperly created merchandise based on the characters.
Friedrich created the character of Johnny Blaze and his alter ego Ghost Rider in 1968. Three years later, he agreed to publish the character in comic books through Stan Lee's Magazine Management, which eventually became Marvel Entertainment.
Under the agreement, Magazine Management became holder of the copyright for the first issue, which explains the origin story of Ghost Rider. Lee's company also held the copyrights to subsequent Ghost Rider works.
However, Magazine Management allegedly never registered the work with the Copyright Office and, pursuant to federal law, Friedrich regained the copyrights to Ghost Rider in 2001.
"Nonetheless, without any compensation to and without any agreement, consent or participation of plaintiff ... in late 2006 or early 2007, the defendants herein wrongfully embarked upon a high-profile campaign, arrangement, joint venture and conspiracy to exploit, profit from and utilize plaintiff's copyrights, the Johnny Blaze character and persona, the origin story and the related characters and personas created by plaintiff, in various endeavors, including, but not limited to, the use of the same in movie theater presentations and promotions, commercials, action-figure toys, video games, clothing and novels," the lawsuit states.
The "Ghost Rider" film opened February 16 in North America and has grossed an estimated $214.6 million in worldwide box office, according to boxofficemojo.com.
Friedrich seeks unspecified damages for claims of copyright infringement, violations of federal and Illinois state unfair competition laws, negligence, waste, tortuous interference with prospective business expectancy, misappropriation of characters, unauthorized use of the characters and false advertising and endorsement.
A Sony spokesman said the studio had no comment on the suit and had not been served with the complaint.