Wall Street Journal: Judge Judith Barzilay huddled late last year with a telepathic professor and a cast of mutants to ponder an age-old question: What does it mean to be human?



In her chambers at the U.S. Court of International Trade, in New York, the judge examined Prof. X and the rest of his band of X-Men, all of them little plastic figures at the heart of a six-year tariff battle between their owner, Marvel Enterprises Inc., and the U.S. Customs Service.



Her ruling thundered through the world of Marvel Comics fans. The famed X-Men, those fighters of prejudice sworn to protect a world that hates and fears them, are not human, she decreed Jan. 3. Nor are many of the villains who do battle with Spiderman and the Fantastic Four. They’re all “nonhuman creatures,” concluded Judge Barzilay.



Marvel subsidiary Toy Biz Inc. pushed Judge Barzilay to declare its heroes nonhuman so it could win a lower duty rate on action figures imported from China in the mid-1990s. At the time, tariffs put higher duties on dolls than toys. According to the U.S. tariff code, human figures are dolls, while figures representing animals or “creatures,” such as monsters and robots, are deemed toys.

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