X-Men v. the United States, “What is Human?” – The Verdict at Last
Sadly the court case wasn’t actually called X-Men v. the United States of America. It went by the much drearier name of Toy Biz, Inc. v. United States in the United States Court of International Trade. But it did define whether mutants were human or not.
Radiolab had the story — you can still listen to it at their website if you want to. The short of it is that U.S. customs slap an extra 12% tariff onto “dolls,” but only a little over 6% onto “toys.” The difference between dolls and toys? Dolls are any products that visually represent humans; toys are anything that doesn’t look human (monsters, angels, aliens, etc.).
Enter a pair of creative lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, who realized that Marvel Toys (Toy Biz Inc., at the time of the case) could save an awful lot of money if they stopped importing action figures as “dolls” and started importing them as “toys” instead. They went to court with the argument that the X-Men, being super-powered mutants, were not human and therefore action figures of them did not visually represent humans.
Now if you’re not a big comics fan, the important part of the story is this: most of the characters in this dispute are “mutants” in Marvel’s world, human beings born with altered genes that give you superpowers. And a whole lot of the X-Men comics are about mutants and non-mutants trying to define — legally, philosophically, and occasionally just taxinomically — whether the characters are human or not.
This often winds up with a dystopian flavor to it. Marvel mutants spend a lot of time fighting to avoid being rounded up and put into camps, hunted down by giant government-sponsored killer robots, etc.
So it’s sort of refreshing to see the U.S. attorneys fighting hard to keep the X-Men legally declared “human,” even if it is just to avoid losing tariff revenue.
The outcome of the case? Oh yes. You can read the full summary if you want, but the U. S. Court of International Trade ruled that the X-Men are not human, and may be imported as “toys.”
This raises some interesting questions for importers of other action figures, to say nothing of the rest of the Marvel line:
- Since Marvel can import all its characters as non-human now, but some of the action figures are in fact entirely human characters (such as Tony Stark, better known to the world as Iron Man, a genetically-normal human in a powered armor suit), how long until the government appeals the decision on the basis of “Your Honor, clearly the plaintiffs don’t know shit about comics”?
- Marvel being a subsidiary of Disney, can we expect to see the same case made soon for, say, the Disney Fairies line, on account of Tinkerbell being even more firmly non-human than Wolverine?
- What about gods (like, say, Thor)? On the one hand, clearly non-human. On the other hand, made in God’s own image, am I right?
- Wasn’t there an American Girl doll that was a freed slave? If the doll represents her in her time as a slave, does it count as non-human, or at least only get charged 3/5 of the tariff?
I’m no legal expert, but I do know a thing or two about comic book nerds, and my prediction — just throwing it out here — is that the U. S. Court of International Trade just opened up a whole worm-can of precedent.
Got a money-saving argument of your own based on this new ruling? Drop a comment. Better yet, sell your idea to a law firm and then drop a comment. But I won’t steal if you do share it here first, I promise.