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On Tuesday, Disney and subsidiary Marvel successfully ducked a copyright bullet fired by Horizon Comics Productions. A federal judge has agreed that a dispute over Iron Man’s body armor has no place in a Massachusetts court.
The ruling is a blow to Ben and Ray Lai, two brothers who run Horizon and sued in April 2015 with word that they once worked as artists at Marvel and later were responsible for their own comic book series entitled Radix, featuring characters who “wear highly detailed, mechanized suits of body armor,” just like what Tony Stark’s alter ego does.
The litigation didn’t reach the merits of whether the superhero dress in Radix was substantially similar to what is seen in the blockbuster Iron Man films. Instead, it is jurisdictional deficiencies that give Marvel some protection from the plaintiff’s suit.
U.S. District Judge Denise Casper writes how the claims lack relatedness to his state with no specific allegations tying transactions, creations or marketing to Massachusetts. And as to the issue of whether the defendants purposely availed themselves of the Massachusetts forum, the judge says it’s not enough.
“Based upon the facts alleged, the most that can be said of Horizon’s showing of purposeful availment is that Defendant producers, publishers and copyright owners created allegedly infringing films and books that ended up in Massachusetts,” she writes in her opinion (read here), adding that exercising personal jurisdiction over the defendants in this instance wouldn’t be reasonable.
The dismissal won’t stop Horizon from refiling the lawsuit — if it so chooses — somewhere else.
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