Remember that lawsuit filed almost two years ago which claimed that Marvel Studios ripped off elements from a comic called Radix for their modern take on Iron Man? Well, it hasn’t gone away just yet – it’s just transformed.
Early last year the court in Massachusetts denied the case based on jurisdiction, but the plaintiffs, brothers Ben and Ray Lai, owners of Horizon Comics Productions, refiled on April 4th, 2016 in New York. On Monday, U.s District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken issued a ruling on Marvel’s motion to dismiss the suit, dismissing portions of the complaint but allowing others to proceed.
In the ruling, Judge Oetken notes that several parts of the complaint revolve around elements that Marvel called “unprotectable” under copyright, and the court agreed. A “highly mechanized suit of armor” was one, as it was too vague, as was the “three point landing” pose that was common between a poster for Iron Man 3 and some Radix promotional artwork. The pose, frankly, is so utterly common it’s now a cliché and is even referred to as “scènes à faire” or an obligatory scene in the ruling, and despite the plaintiffs assertions that Iron Man originally wore spandex and minimal armor, he wore power armor well before Radix existed, and even when he first debuted in 1963. As those elements are unprotectable, they cannot be considered as part of the test for “substantial similarity” for the case.
Some elements, however, may be protectable in comparing the images, notably things like hairstyles, style of the suit, the use of blue lights in the suit, etc. and Judge Oetken will allow the complaint to proceed “in part”. However, with what seems to remain in the complaint to press on, it still looks like an uphill battle that got even steeper for the plaintiffs.