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Is There Anything Superheroes Can’t Teach Us? | SMALL BUSINESS

characters and the origin story to Marvel and, thereafter, created Ghost Rider comics on a work-for-hire basis from 1973 to 1978. He did not initially have a written contract, but the copyright law changed in 1976 to require work-for-hire agreements for certain

if the author provides proper notice, he is entitled to a renewal term of 67 years, freeand-clear of any rights, interests or licenses previously granted to others. The principle behind renewal rights is that upon creation, an author may not appreciate the potential

after the initial term of 28 years, if the author provides proper notice, he is entitled to a renewal term of 67 years, freeand-clear of any rights, interests or licenses previously granted to others types of works to be in writing. Marvel, therefore, had all of its freelancers enter into a form contract. The contract was clear that it covered works going forward, but less so for works already created. It was also vague concerning “renewal rights.” Renewal rights are a little-known, but author-friendly aspect of copyrights. After the initial term of 28 years,

long-term value of the copyright and may sell it for a pittance (e.g. Superman’s creators famously sold their rights for $130). After the initial term, the value of the work presumably has been “tested,” and the author can renegotiate more favorable terms to license, or can exploit the copyright on his own. This is why work-for-hire agreements are so crucial. The employer, not the employee-

creator, is legally the “author” of any workfor-hire. This means that the company holds all renewal rights and can avoid a potentially costly showdown with an employee (or former employee) by ensuring that work-forhire agreements clearly and unambiguously vest authorship in the company from the beginning. Alternatively, renewal rights can also be assigned during the initial term. This is important if the company neglected to obtain a work-for-hire agreement at the beginning of the relationship or is otherwise concerned over ownership rights. In the Ghost Rider case, both the workfor-hire aspect of the agreement and assignment of renewal rights were not sufficiently definite to entitle Marvel to summary judgment. Therefore, the case is going back to the trial court to determine what the parties intended, which is never a position a company fighting the perceived little guy wants to be in. Regardless of the outcome of trial, the biggest winners may be the movie-going public if it means no more Nicolas Cage Ghost Rider sequels.

Byron McMasters, Esq. Duffy & Sweeney

www.risbj.com | volume two issue six

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Profile for Rhode Island Small Business Journal

RISBJ Volume 2 Issue 6  

Volume 2, Issue 6 of RISBJ Featuring Swipely

RISBJ Volume 2 Issue 6  

Volume 2, Issue 6 of RISBJ Featuring Swipely

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