The Ghost Rider lawsuit has just gone down in flames.
Writer Gary Friedrich — who created the contemporary version of the motorcycle-riding, fire-headed character — does not have rights to it, a U.S. District Court judge ruled Wednesday in New York.
Instead, the rights belong to Marvel Entertainment, for whom Friedrich was freelancing when he dreamt up Ghost Rider. (The new version of the character first appeared in Marvel's "Spotlight 5" comic book in 1972. The original Ghost Rider, a cowboy-style character who rode a horse, appeared in Marvel comics in the 1950s and 1960s.)
Friedrich, a former employee of and freelancer for Marvel, sued the company in April 2007, in the hopes of capitalizing on the rights to the "Ghost Rider" movie released that same year. (The second installment in the Nicolas Cage-starring film franchise, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," is due in theaters Feb. 17.)
He said the company had infringed his rights and that he owned the character. Friedrich also argued he owned the use of Ghost Rider in merchandise including toys and video games.
But District Judge Katherine B. Forrest disagreed in her ruling, which was obtained by TheWrap. She said that, since Friedrich was working for Marvel in a "work-for-hire" capacity at the time of the character's creation in 1971 and 1972, he had agreed for all rights to be passed to Marvel. She said he "definitely conveyed by contract to Marvel all rights" to Ghost Rider when he was paid for the initial creation of the character and when he signed a separate contract with Marvel in 1978.
"Friedrich conceded that the checks he received during the time period in which he created the Character and the Work contained the assignment legend," Forrest wrote. "Friedrich also admitted that there were legends on the back of his freelance checks and that he signed the checks."
"Friedrich concedes that he had read the 1978 Agreement when he signed it, that he discussed it with other freelancers — in particular, the topic of relinquishing rights which they may have had in exchange for the possibility of additional work — and that he understood its import," the ruling continued.
Friedrich is planning to appeal Forrest's decision, according to various reports.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.