Mutants Rights: Toy Biz v. United States (inspired by Radiolab)

Toy Biz v. United States was a 2003 decision in the United States Court of International Trade that determined that for purposes of tariffs, Toy Biz’s action figures were toys, not dolls, because they represented “nonhuman creatures.” This decision effectively reduced the tariff rate by a factor of two.

BackgroundU.S. law distinguishes between two types of action figures for determining tariffs: dolls, which are defined to include human figures, and toys, which include “nonhuman creatures”. Because duties on dolls were higher than on toys, Marvel Comics subsidiary Toy Biz argued before the U.S. Court of International Trade, that their action figures (including the X-Men and Fantastic Four) represented “nonhuman creatures” and were subject to the lower tariff rates for toys instead of the higher ones for dolls. On January 3, 2003, after examining more than 60 action figures, Judge Judith Barzilay ruled in their favor, granting Toy Biz reimbursement for import taxes on previous toys.

ReactionBecause a common theme in Marvel Comics had been the struggle for mutants like the X-Men to prove their humanity, the case shocked numerous fans. Marvel responded to these concerns by claiming “our heroes are living, breathing human beings – but humans who have extraordinary abilities … A decision that the X-Men figures indeed do have ‘nonhuman’ characteristics further proves our characters have special, out-of-this world powers.”


by Pip G.

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