A recent court order from the Federal District Court in New York has limited the issues moving forward in the few year old legal saga over whether Iron Man's most recent metal suit was stolen, intellectually speaking. No, Tony Stark didn't leave his suit behind on some school campus, but rather two former artists for the Marvel company, which is part of Disney, claim that the Iron Man franchise ripped off the artwork from their similar comic book hero, named Radix.
The court found that although there are quite a few similar elements, some of the basic or generic characteristics of superhero costumes and wardrobes are not protectable under copyright law. Things like capes, boots, flared gloves, goggles, gold titanium alloy crime fighting suits, and more, are all part of the usual expectation of what a superhero looks like and wears, and therefore a non-copyrightable elements. However, color schemes, designs, and logos may still enjoy protection.
The central two issues that plaintiffs are seeking to litigate involve a promotional poster for the movie Iron Man 3 which bears a striking resemblance to a promotional poster for Radix, as well as the Iron Man suit as depicted in the most recent movie.
Although the court was quick to point out that superhero fighting poses are not protectable, there are elements of the promotional poster that may very well be protectable. Both Stark, portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., and Radix, are in nearly identical poses on the promotional piece. However, when it comes to metal suit, the court did rule that, as a matter of law, no reasonable jury could find that there was copyright infringement.
Even though this case has been working its way through the justice system since 2015, it is still in the early stages of litigation. At this stage, there will likely be a rather protracted period of time where the parties will exchange factual information, known as discovery, which will be followed by motions for summary judgment where each side will ask the court to rule in their favor. If neither party prevails on summary judgment, the case will move forward towards a trial date with an actual jury.