Wednesday, January 22, 2003

cartoon characters declared non human

The Wall Street Journal reports upon a decision of a judge in the U.S. Court of International Trade, who has held that comics characters from the Marvel Universe, notably those from the X-Men series, aren't human, and the duty imposed upon their import from China would be at a lower rate than if they were.

A six-year-old battle between Marvel Comics and the U.S. Customs Office has hinged upon the distinction between human and nonhuman for the action figures (a term which probably holds other connotations completely, and is only used here in a generic sense). A human figurine would be considered a "doll." A nonhuman figure is a "toy." The tariff rates for dolls is higher than for toys.

What some fans of the series find ironic is that the storylines often emphasize the humanity of the characters, and that they are ordinary people gifted, or cursed, with extraordinary abilities. In these days of cloning controversies, in vitro fertilization, and cybernetic implants, the question "what is human" may be one facing judges in a legal context more often. Those decisions may have more impact than the cost of importing figurines from China to the US. What has me stumped though, is why there would be different rates for toys and dolls under the U.S. tariff code?

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