L.E. Becker of WARP 9 in Clawson, Michigan comments on the recent news that Ghost Rider creator Gary Friedrich owes Marvel Entertainment $17,000 over selling unlicensed merchandise (see "Lawsuit Victory Yields PR Nightmare").

I have been reading the case against Gary Friedrich, and although the outcome of ownership is not, by any means surprising, the outcome of the counterclaim by Marvel, which no one knew about, most definitely was.  Gary Friedrich now owes Marvel $17,000 for sales of unlicensed prints of Ghost Rider at shows and what not.  Many people in the comic community, both professional and fans have expressed outrage and contempt towards Marvel, deeming the act as morally reprehensible.  Was this act wrong for Marvel?  Morally, yes.  Legally, well... no.

This is not a blight against Mr. Friedrich.  He thought that he was wronged by Marvel over ownership, and he proceeded through the proper channels.  I have no issues with Mr. Friedrich.  Not even in what he was doing in the selling of (again) unlicensed prints.  No issues at all.

The problem is, however, that Mr. Friedrich was selling unlicensed merchandise at the shows.  Whether or not he was claiming it is not the issue.  He took images of characters that he (legally) did not own, and created unlicensed product of said characters to sell for profit.  Legally, he was wrong.  Morally, it was a character he created, so he should have been given some leeway.  However, morals and legal are, and can be polar opposites.  

I guess, that with this ruling, comic professionals (writers & artists) who attend comic shows will need to be careful of what they sell.  It's always been an unwritten rule that artists/writers who sell prints/original art/scripts of a company's licensed character(s) could do so with the said companies turning a blind eye.  Companies thought it was "small potatoes" and thought of it as "promotion."

Enter Disney.  Disney has zero tolerance for bootleg/unlicensed materials containing their licenses.  Zero.  I am sure, positive in fact, that once Disney bought Marvel, that Disney brought their lawyers into the whole Friedrich fiasco to deal with it (an assumption at best).  Friedrich was a sacrifice to the Mouse.  This is a proverbial "head on a pike" to show those that if you mess with Disney (not Marvel anymore) you get decapitated.

How soon until you see Marvel/Disney execs trolling around SDCC with cease & desist orders to the small fry guys, on up to the "big potatoes?”  Personally, I am constantly amazed that the bigger artists who set up with sketchbooks with different licensed characters in them (sometimes interacting with each other) have not been slapped hard by this.  One artist that I talked to said he puts in the back of his book "all characters are copyrighted by their affiliated companies," so he assumes that he is safe. Yeah, ok.

And before you think that that will never happen, remember Star Trek shows?  I do.  I also remember when Paramount would come in with cease & desist orders to people selling fake/fan made props, shirts, photos, etc.  More people went out of business at Star Trek shows than anywhere else.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.