The Quality of Merciless Is Not Litigated
by HAL MOUNTSAUERKRAUTEN, Alternate Reality News Service Court Writer
The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of Dr. Ming the Merciless in his case against the Bush administration.
The substance of the plagiarism case revolves around an address President Bush gave at West Point in 2002, in which he said, “America has, and intends to keep, military strengths beyond challenge, thereby making the destabilizing arms races of other eras pointless, and limiting rivalries to trade and other pursuits of peace.”
In his statement of claim, Dr. Merciless argued that this was close enough to his goal of world conquest to be considered a breach of his copyright. As he clearly stated in the 1940 serial Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe: “I have military strength beyond challenge. Any attempt to match my strength, as happened in the past, will be pointless. You will be able to rival me in trade or other pursuits of peace, as I will it.”
The statement of claim includes 17 different documents in which Bush administration rhetoric appears to have been taken directly from speeches made by Dr. Merciless. These include a National Security Strategy that read: “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.” Substitute “crush” for “dissuade” and “Ming the Merciless” for “the United States,” and this could have been said by Dr. Merciless on several different occasions in his quest for universal control.
United States Attorney General Alberto Gonzales expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court didn’t refuse to hear the case. In their winning argument before the California State Supreme Court, Department of Justice officials had argued that the Court’s 1973 ruling in Moriarty v. United States Government had definitively settled the question of whether or not a fictional character could sue the government for copying his nefarious plans for world domination.
However, Dr. Merciless’ lawyers successfully argued before the federal Supreme Court that Moriarty v. United States Government was dismissed on the narrow grounds that the plaintiff had allowed his copyright to lapse. Since Dr. Merciless had renewed his threats to take over the world in the 1974 spoof Flesh Gordon (under the name Emperor Wang the Perverted), his lawyers argued, Moriarty v. United States Government did not apply.
While this argument prevailed, it does give the defence an obvious line of reasoning for its case: that copyright rights are not transferable from serious fictional characters to their parodic counterparts. Goodgulf Greyteeth v. United Fruit Company may be a precedent for this argument, although legal scholars are divided on this point.
Without giving any of their strategies away, Gonzales said that he would defend the government’s right to state its intention to militarily dominate the world to the fullest extent possible.
Court watchers were surprised that the government didn’t avail itself of an obvious defense before the California Supreme Court: that Ming the Merciless’ rhetoric was, itself, not original. In the fictional realm, for example, Fu Manchu had been making similar threats at least a decade before Dr. Merciless had come to prominence. In the non-fictional realm, empires from the British in the 19th century all the way back to the Roman in…umm…well, a long, long time ago, had asserted their world supremacy intentions.
“Ming’s claim to hold the copyright on this particular expression is dubious, at best,” “Fast” Eddie Feldspan, who has been covering the trial for Fictional Court TV, stated. “You have to know that the government will press this argument in the Supreme Court because, really, what else have they got?”
“Oh, I’ve got two words for Eddie Feldpsan,” retorted “Slow” Martin Gorgon, who has been covering the trial for LotsMusic: “executive privilege. The President must have the right to plunder the global domination rhetoric of fictional characters in order to fully prosecute the war against international Islamo-fascism. If the high court denies him this right, the terrorists will have won.”
While the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has generally been predisposed to favouring this interpretation of a unitary presidency (see, for example, Anonymous Torture Victims v. United States Government), it has also been highly supportive of corporate property rights (see, for instance, MultiNatCorp v. McWorld). Because of this conflict, this defense may be riskier than supporters of this administration would like to believe.
Opening arguments are set to begin on September 27.