Comic Artists Claim Copyright On Metallic Suits And The Three Point Landing

from the idea-v-expression dept

Oh boy. Another day, another copyright case in which plaintiffs don’t seem to understand the basic concept of the idea v. expression dichotomy in copyright law. Once again: you cannot copyright an idea. You can only copyright a particular expression of your idea. And, yes, the line between the two has sometimes been blurred, but it doesn’t change the basics. Marc Randazza now alerts us to a nutty case in which two comic artist brothers — who at least for a time were employed by Marvel Comics — are now suing Marvel comics for supposedly infringing on the brothers’ copyright on… superheroes in armored suits and the three point landing. I’m not joking. The brothers, Ben and Ray Lai, created a comic book series called Radix in 2001, and started a company, Horizon Comics, which holds the copyright on Radix. At some later date, the brothers went to work for Marvel. They now claim that they invented both the idea of a superhero wearing body armor and the (now cliché’d) three point landing action — and that’s proof that Marvel infringed on their copyright:

It was not until after the Lai brothers’ submitted their work in Radix to Marvel that Marvel began depicting Iron Man wearing the Suits. The Suits are substantially similar to the armor depicted in the Radix Materials years earlier. Neither the Lai brothers nor Plaintiff authorized any of the Defendants to exploit the Radix Materials in these or any other ways.

The depiction of Iron Man in the Iron Man Materials infringes Plaintiff?s rights in its copyrighted Radix Materials.

For example, Defendants’ poster promoting Iron Man 3 (?Poster?) is a copy of a promotional piece of art for the Radix comic. An image of the Poster, alongside promotional art from Radix created years earlier, is attached as Exhibit B. The Iron Man character, including the Suit, as depicted in the Poster is the same or substantially similar to the character as he appears throughout the Iron Man Materials.

Here’s “Exhibit B” in case you were wondering:

Marc Randazza — with whom I often disagree with on copyright issues — notes just how ridiculous this is and points out that the claims here make no sense:

Neither mechanized body armor nor the three-point landing are new to the comic world. For armor, characters of note may include Master Chief from Halo, Batman, Transformers, and perhaps the Pacific Rim comic release that coincided with the movie in 2013. Horizon seeking to profiteer here would mean that they could, I suppose, seek redress against DC for Superman?s occasional adaptation of the pose, or other places in the Anime realm including characters from Kuogane Pukapuka Tai and Naruto (which has been around since 1997). Although one may think to consider that three-point landings of note include Black Widow and Spiderman, both Marvel characters begs the question does Marvel favor the three-point stance, and did this fancy come about after Lais? involvement?

Either way, the three-point stance and the armored wardrobe cannot so simply be claimed by the Lai brothers. We should reflect on this as an example of how not to use our lawyering super powers to crush the comic realm into copyright compliance. Copyright indeed should, though it doesn’t always, cover creative and novel characters in comics, books, and movies, though we must draw the line at common tropes used to further artistic invention.

The Three Point Landing is such a cliché at this point that I hardly think it could be deemed copyrightable. See, e.g., Herzog v. Castle Rock Entertainment, 193 F.3d 1241 (11th Cir. 1999) (holding that plaintiff failed to establish substantial similarity between two films portraying detectives investigating murder in small town. The court reasoned “scenes a faire, ‘sequences of events which necessarily follow from a common theme,’ are not protectable.”)

And for further support, he posts this little video highlighting the cliché that has become the “three point landing”

We have to get past this stupid concept that every possible idea is “ownable” and that using common clichés and tropes requires payment (or even direct acknowledgement for merely homage). That’s not how culture has ever worked and to pretend that’s how copyright law is supposed to work only leads to problems.

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Companies: disney, horizon comics, marvel

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Comments on “Comic Artists Claim Copyright On Metallic Suits And The Three Point Landing”

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Nate (profile) says:

Re: Wait...

Wikipedia says that Iron Man debuted in 1963, actually.

But do you know what was published in 1959?

That would Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Guess what tech was featured in that novel?

While I’m on the topic, I don’t think Mike or Marc caught the fact that many of the claims made in the filing are utter nonsense. I covered this lawsuit a couple days ago, and I noticed that the Iron Man suit was ” a fully mechanized suit of body armor” since at least the 1990s. I’m not much of a comic book reader, but I can tell you that the cartoons had suits which fit the description.

There are also graphics which show the various depictions of the Iron Man suit (see my post). Most of the later ones looked like “fully mechanized suit(s) of body armor”.

This lawsuit isn’t just ridiculous, it is also utterly bogus.

psiu says:

Re: :)

I’ve seen some mention of your work before (likely here? Popehat?) and honestly never would have thought that.

Intelligent discourse and agreement that the system is being grossly misused, if not broken is a pretty similar trait, to me. Your disagreements are probably a lot closer to agreement than it seems.

Would be interesting to see a Techdirt interview or (friendly) debate on some of the current topics with you. [And others with a similar “close but not quite” set of viewpoints]

Anonymous Coward says:

The part of the complaint that doesn’t make sense is the claim that prior to the movies, Iron Man was just wearing spandex and minimal armor. If he’s wearing spandex, it isn’t visible if he’s wearing it under his head-to-toe metal armor even in the earliest versions. Do they not understand that the yellow parts of the armor are actual metal parts with working mechanisms inside them? Drawing the details just took a lot of time back in the day.

But even by 1994 when the What If Iron Man Sold Out? issue came out, there were Iron Man suit models that had all the techno-details on the armor. And when the armor gets shredded by Magneto, you see all the details on the inside.

Their claim seems to misunderstand (intentionally?) a fundamental aspect of Iron Man’s armor.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Don't panic! It'll go nowhere.

Yes, this article completely undermines all the money those people are making. People will stop paying to enjoy copyrighted works if we continue to talk about every single one of the numerous “exceptions” that pop up when copyright is abused or attempted to be abused. Good point.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Lawyers.

Now that I think about it, this’s SOP for ambulance chasers. Lawyer takes the case on a contingency basis with nothing up front. If they get anything from their threat, he takes X%. If the threatened refuses and chooses to fight it, they withdraw the claim and fold. “Oopsie. Next!” Fighting back is expensive and time consuming even if you’re right, so many will pay/settle just to make it go away.

The Cosa Nostra calls it a shakedown. We call it extortion. Lawyers call it business as usual. Imaginary Property; what a racket.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Lawyers.

My bad. I should have qualified “ambulance chasers.” I never mean to suggest there are no good lawyers; far from it. Some of my favorite people (ie. EFF) are lawyers mostly. There used to be a good one on Slashdot who called himself NYCountyLawyer (or something like that), though I’ve not bothered with /. in a while. Of course, there’s Popehat as well who does admirable work.

I wish those ones could get the rest disbarred (or jailed), but that’d be like trying to count all the grains of sand on a beach.

Anonymous Coward says:

Since the 80s iron man has had many different designs of suit of armour,usually red and gold colored,
the radix suit uses different shapes and colors ,
from the iron man suit .
Theres loads of characters in asian sf manga comics ,
which have worned powered suits of armour before 2001 ,
the three point landing is a standard pose in sf or superhero comics .

John85851 (profile) says:

Can you say "marketing"?

Or let’s look at this another way:

If these guys were artists at Marvel Comics, then it’s probably safe to assume they knew some rough history about the characters. Even if they didn’t know the exact details, the editors would fill them in about which armor Iron Man wore and for what mission.

Then something happened and they’re no longer at Marvel Comics.

Then “Iron Man 3”, “The Avengers”, and “Avengers: Age of Ultron” come out and they all make tons of money.

Yet who has ever heard of Radix? Why haven’t any producers come to these guys to give them $200 million to make a movie?

Conclusion: these guys need some marketing and it’s less expensive to file a lawsuit against Disney/ Marvel than it is to buy some billboards advertising their comic.
Sure, the lawsuit will be squashed before opening arguments, but look at how we’re all giving publicity to Radix.

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