Marvel Gets Taxes Lowered on Superhero Mutants

Two attorneys have helped Marvel Entertainment lower import taxes on its action figures by arguing that superheroes like the X-Men are less like human dolls and more like nonhuman toys.

The U.S. Customs Department charges a 12 percent import duty on dolls, classified as representing humans, as opposed to a 6.8 percent tariff on toys, which can represent monsters or robots. The two lawyers, Sherry Singer and Indie Singh, persuaded Marvel that they could help the company save money by arguing that superhero characters like Wolverine from the X-Men series were more like mutants than human beings.

They brought a bagful of X-Men action figures to the U.S. Customs Office in an effort to convince customs agents. Ultimately they took the government to court and won. The story was recounted on a recent episode of the WNYC and NPR radio series Radiolab. A podcast is available here.

You can also find the Customs Department’s ruling in 1995 linked here. (Marvel has since been acquired by the Walt Disney Company. ) The ruling includes information such as, “Dr. Doom's non-human characteristics include the appearance of metal upper and lower extremities and a metallic head. The creature's face is crisscrossed by rows of rivet marks. It has reinforced rectangles for eye openings, and an open mouth surrounded by rivet marks and blocked by bars, one horizontal and two vertical. Although these figures were classified in subheading 9502.10.4000, HTSUSA, we find that it would be immediately apparent to the casual observer that the articles do not represent humans, but rather animals or non-human creatures.”

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