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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The rights to Ghost Rider, the motorcycle riding comic book hero whose skull is engulfed in flames, belong to Marvel Comics and not to the writer who dreamed him up, a U.S. judge ruled.
Ghost Rider's first Marvel Comics appearance as a fiery vigilante superhero was in 1972, after Marvel freelancer Gary Friedrich first conceived him, an opinion by Manhattan federal court judge Katherine Forrest said.
But it was not until 2004 that Friedrich began considering legal action against the comic book giant, when he learned of an upcoming Ghost Rider movie adaptation. The movie, released in 2007, starred Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes. A second Ghost Rider, also starring Cage, is slated for release next year.
In his 2007 lawsuit, Friedrich claimed Marvel had infringed his rights and that he owned the character and its use in the films, as well as toys, video games and other merchandise.
The judge disagreed in an opinion released Wednesday, finding that Friedrich had relinquished his rights to Ghost Rider when he cashed checks from Marvel and that the process of creating the comics involved so many steps, the product was unmistakably owned by Marvel.
"If Friedrich... had any rights to the character or the work at the time he endorsed the checks... he relinquished those rights to Marvel," the judge said.
A lawyer for Friedrich, Charles Kramer, declined to comment on the ruling but said he would file an appeal.
Reporting by Basil Katz, editing by Christine Kearney