Should Superhero Superpowers Be Considered Property?

from the the-debate-is-on dept

We’ve had many, many debates around here over the question of whether or not “intellectual property” is actually property. So it seems like many of you might enjoy this article, sent in by johnjac, where some attorneys with way too much free time on their hands discuss whether or not superpowers possessed by super heroes should be considered property or not. I will give you just this short snippet as a taste, which I assume will make you rush over to read the whole thing:

If Superman uses the power of a blue sun to bestow superpowers on another person, is that a taxable asset transfer?  Who would want to try to collect?

If two superheroes marry, share a power, then later divorce, could one be forced to give up the power during the division of assets?  Does it matter who had the power originally?  Even though the shared power may be a non-rival good, one of the two superheroes may still have a claim to exclusivity.  Perhaps the power is a trademark ability of one character, or maybe they signed a superhero pre-nuptial agreement that determined the disposition of any shared abilities.

If one superhero lends a power to another (or to a normal person), does that superhero have an implied right to its return?  In other words, is a bailment created?  I think the answer here is yes.


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Comments on “Should Superhero Superpowers Be Considered Property?”

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Darryl says:

What about LL

whether or not “intellectual property” is actually property.

we’ll one would have to assume the blue sun actually exists, and the knowledge of its capabilities must also actually exist.

Would it be a taxable asset transfer, if it was an asset the answer would be YES.

Obviously, the knowledge that the blue sun has the ability to bestow superpowers is an asset, so knowledge is an asset.

But it depends on what superman does, does he show the mortal who to gain super powers, or does he apply his IP and give him the results of that IP, but not necesserly the IP.

Superman would be silly to show him how to do it, so he could do more and more people, until everyone has the superpower, therefore no one has..

You might want to watch the movie “the supers” by Pixar, it explains that concept well 🙂

But I digress, lets get back to the critical, weekend article at hand.

Does superman have the copyright right, or own the IP to the blue sun ? if he does not,, who does ?

Because if superman does not have the legal right to bestow powers on others, even if he has the ability he would be in breach of IP laws, (assuming it was IP)..

So if there are blue sun able to give superpowers, and no one knows that happens. (ie no IP) then the physical fact the blue suns gives powers is of no value..

If you know that blue suns give powers, that information, that knowledge makes the physical entity of great value, whereas before it has no value.

so without the IP, without the knowledge of what a blue sun can do, the fact it can do it is worthless, as no one knows that fact…

So its the IP that gives the physical entity value, and without the IP that entity has no value.

knowing something can do something is of value, as opposed to being aware of something, but not seeing the capabilities of that thing.

If Superman uses the power of a blue sun to bestow superpowers on another person, is that a taxable asset transfer? Who would want to try to collect?

No, if I invent a machine that gives some superpower, I put you in it, and make you a superman.. but I have not shown you how my machine works, or shown you the design.

I’m not transfering any IP to you, im transfering a service (making you a super), The only IP or asset im transferring is telling you I have the ability to make you a super..

But NOT HOW I do it..

When it boils right down to it, all we have as people, or supwerhero’s is our IP. Its not what you own that allows you to survive in the world.. Its what you know..

And to claim what you know, somehow has no value is a bit sad, would you not say ?

You can lose all your physical property, and you can continue on. You cannot lose your IP and function as a human..

So IP, is what defines us, its what defines all living things, their knowledge and abilities enables them to function.

If you do not have that knowledge or abilities, you have nothing.

So in that context, what else has more value than IP, and how is what you know not an asset, and how is it not what makes you or enables you to function, and progress as a living, thinking being?

IP is knowing things of value, or just knowing things, everything you know, or a great deal of it, as of incredable value to you.. so much so you cannot function without that knowledge.

Some IP, (certainly not all) is of commercial value, that means people are willing to pay either for that knowledge, or for the benefit of that knowledge, (ie, the superhero machine I invented)..

If you are willing to pay me a million dollars to be made a superhero (even for a day). Because I have IP, or knowledge of how to do that..

That IP is of value to me, and if there are no laws protecting that IP, I will have to keep my method a secret.

Like the military has to do with their IP, do you think when the military shoot a missile at you they are doing a ‘technology or asset transer’ ?

Perhaps, they could send them a missile, then a bill for it!

but you dont sell IP, you sell that product of that IP, you sell the ability to become a superman, but how the knowledge of how to do it yourself.

So the value in any IP is what you make of it, in some cases that can be a massive amount of money, or nothing at all.

But its still what you make of it, not it in itself.


what is far more interesting is how many occurances of the initials LL occur in superman movie’s?

to get you started, Lex Luther, and Louis Lane.. how many more can you think of??

Darryl says:

Gods Copyright - - more interesting than superhero's.

From Revelations;

If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add until him the plagues that are written in this book.
And if any man shall take away from the words from this book, God will take away his part out of the book of life.

See what happens when you dont have copyright and IP freedoms!!!! 🙂

Chris in Utah (profile) says:

Dear Incredibles, I regret to inform you your son will be striped of his powers for imitating the Flash. Your daughter may keep her shield as we find this a fair use ability, though her disappearing act has been made property of Wonder Woman. As for yourselves, Mrs. Incredible you are here by ordered by the court to stop stretching, It was a guy thing to begin with and you have now made it perverted. Mr Incredible you may keep your strength on the condition you keep a record of how many times you use it to subsequently pay Superman Royalties. As for baby, it may keep its transformation qualities because the wonder twins are long dead.

I smell a sequel!

Jon Erik Kingstad (profile) says:

Superhero powers

I haven’t read the link but I suspect some IP lawyers are just having a bit of fun. IP truly is a strange area of law. Calling ideas of one kind or another “property”, particularly “intellectual property”, strikes me as ridiculous and ironic because it’s so brain dead and lame, ideawise and intellectually.

Josef Anvil (profile) says:

I thought this was going to be something different

When I read the title of this article, I thought it was going to be something along the lines of the Superman case.

The last that I heard was that DC Comics (Time Warner) retained the copyright on a portion of Superman’s powers and that the creator’s heirs retained the copyright on the rest of his powers. Which seems to be an incredibly difficult position for DC Comics when it comes to royalties.

So it seems that in some cases superpowers can be considered IP.

Im not sure if this means that moving forward media companies will try to copyright any new powers they come up with.

Joe Szilagyi (profile) says:

Mike, a more fun question for you to do a post on is...

…and that might be up your alley as a two-part question.:

What if someone magically did wake up with super powers tomorrow–let’s say good-old super-speed, and tossed on a red suit, fought some crime with a full-face mask (no one knows who he is), and then told a local news reporter on live TV that they can call him “The Flash”, which is I think both a copyright and trademark of DC/Time Warner.

Now, I’m sure the company could (and would) shut down the army of t-shirts and other bootleg swag that would pop up. But…

1. Could DC/Time Warner legally stop him, the person, from calling himself that in his deeds, actions, and so on?

2. If he called himself “New Name And Concept”, or NNAC for short, which doesn’t exist in any established, copyrighted work–could he stop DC/Time Warner or Marvel from just inserting NNAC or a shameless copy of it into their own books for profit?

If you think this is more up their alley, I’ll punt it over their, but it seems like yours.

Don says:

It worked for obama so it should work for you also.

If Superman uses the power of a blue sun to bestow superpowers on another person, is that a taxable asset transfer? Who would want to try to collect?

This would be the same if you loaned a car to some one, they use it to get to work, then YES that would be taxable.

Just having the super powers would not be taxable as there would be no way to prove the powers were given. But once those powers were manifested into ?work? that causes increase of holdings, then that increase could be taxed.

However if you used those super powers ?loaned to you? to save children, and smash bank robbers, where you have no personal increase then there is nothing to tax.

It would be best to consult an attorney and set up a not for profit corporation where your assets and increase made by your ?loaned? super powers can be placed and there by sheltered.

You could also start a PAC corporation, funded with untold billions, get yourself elected and make your own laws where people with super power are exempt from taxation. It worked for obama so it should work for you also.


Darryl says:

Attorneys with too much time on their hands LOL.. = BAD attorneys

where some attorneys with way too much free time on their hands

What do you call an attorney in the US in these times, iwth way too much free time on their hands ???

That would be code speak, for a bad attorney.

perhaps if they actually talked about real laws that effect people, they might actually get some REAL WORK, so they do not have to amuse themselves with well,,, nothing..

so for them there was no more pressing legal issues that would warrent their debate..

jogreen68 (profile) says:

Pre-nup is essential

I don’t want history repeating itself so I share with all, I once had superpowers, nothing too special, just the ability to run at warp speed and the strength of 10,000 brown bears. It turns out these days you tell your partner about any of your assets with no pre-nup, superpowers or not you are pretty much gonna end up homeless. I now make a living picking up food wrappers outside taco bell.

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