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Gary Friedrich Enterprises, LLC v. Marvel Characters, Inc.

716 F.3d 302 (2013)

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Gary Friedrich Enterprises, LLC v. Marvel Characters, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

716 F.3d 302 (2013)

Facts

Gary Friedrich contributed heavily to the conception of a Marvel Comics superhero character known as Ghost Rider, which first appeared in 1972. That same year, Friedrich assigned his copyright interests in Ghost Rider and related characters to Marvel. The 1976 Copyright Act, effective as of 1978, established an initial copyright term of 28 years from the date a copyright was secured and a renewal term of 67 years. In 1978 Friedrich and Marvel entered a work-for-hire agreement in which Friedrich granted Marvel all rights to his work under the agreement. However, the agreement was ambiguously worded, with an emphasis on future tense. It did not specifically mention renewal rights; nor were renewal rights discussed at the time of signing. The original copyright on Ghost Rider expired in 2000. However, Marvel continued to the use the character in new products, including a film that went into production in 2004. Friedrich, through his company, Gary Friedrich Enterprises, LLC (Friedrich) (plaintiff) brought suit against Marvel Characters, Inc. (Marvel) (defendant), with both parties claiming ownership of the 67-year renewal term. Friedrich also claimed sole authorship of the character, but Marvel argued that it was the result of a collaborative process. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Marvel. Friedrich appealed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Chin, J.)

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