Saturday, January 28, 2012

More Reasons Why Work-for-Hire Stinks

Another copyright case from the comics world, but one that has implications for people working in animation.

Writer Gary Friedrich created Marvel's version of Ghost Rider. He sued Marvel claiming that it was created and offered to them and was not done as work for hire. He lost the suit.

Previously, Friedrich commissioned artwork of the character which he sold at various comics conventions. Here's where it gets ugly:
"As per the courts instructions Friedrich has to account for any and all money that he has received, “...relating to the gross and net amount derived from Plaintiffs' sale of goods bearing the Ghost Rider image, likeness, or Marvel trademark.” This means that Friedrich has to account for every cent each and every time he sold a print at a convention or any other item to anyone, that has the Ghost Rider image or name on it, and he has to account to all of the defendants in the case, and there’s quite a few of those, including, but not limited to, Marvel Defendants, Movie Defendants, Hasbro, Inc. and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc. If the defendants don’t like, or don't agree with, the numbers that Friedrich supplies then they can, and probably will, ask for a deposition whereby they can question him, under oath. It was no secret that Friedrich commissioned artists such as Herb Trimpe, Arthur Suydam and others to draw Ghost Rider images which were then sold as prints over the years. If you bought one thinking you were helping Gary, well, that cash will most likely end up in Marvels pockets. This amount will be factored into any damages that the defendants can claim from Friedrich, all of which will be bundled up neatly into a final judgement so the case can then proceed to the appeal stage."
So, if you work in animation and sit at conventions selling your drawings of characters that you've worked on (or not) but don't own, you are not only violating copyright, you may have to account for each and every sale if the copyright owner ever comes after you.

Cartoonist Dave Sim once said that no corporation will ever pay you enough to successfully sue them. He's certainly right in Friedrich's case. Friedrich is appealing the copyright decision, but is already broke. He owes his lawyers $100,000.
"If his appeal fails Friedrich will be a financially ruined man. He stands to lose everything he owns, and ever will own. Naturally the court doesn’t care for this, but Marvel might. With the imminent release of the second Ghost Rider movie, a franchise that draws heavily from the mythos that Friedrich helped create and has never been compensated for from Marvel (outside of payments for the comic books), Marvel is set to see another financial windfall of multiple millions of dollars. It’d be nice to think that, perhaps, someone at Marvel can see the logic that a settlement would have in this case, if only in the value of good publicity alone. As it is Marvel have done to Friedrich what DC did to Siegel, Shuster, Bill Finger and many others – ground him into the dirt, taken his creation, made more money in a week than the original creator will see in a lifetime and then keep on keeping on. Perhaps it’s time that a campaign designed to embarrass Marvel be undertaken – the sheer threat of such a campaign worked for Dave Cockrum. While Cockrum didn’t get millions, nor did Gene Colan when he approached and asked Marvel, they did get sizable amounts which, in Cockrum’s case alone, allowed him to live his remaining years out in relative comfort and ease. As it stands the people who’ll be making the most money from the Ghost Rider sequel will be people who had nothing to do with the character. As it stands, according to Box Office Mojo, the first Ghost Rider movie has grossed over $115,800,000 worldwide. The sequel should do similar amounts, meaning Marvel will clear a nice sum, again, while denying the creator a cent."
The above information is from 20th Century Danny Boy. Torsten Adair reflects on the situation as well.

And in case you've forgotten, Marvel is owned by Disney. So if you work (or have worked) for Disney, Pixar or Marvel, pay attention.

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