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CBLDF: US Customs Seizes Comics

by  in Comic News Comment
CBLDF: US Customs Seizes Comics

Official Press Release

On October 27, U.S. Customs sent a letter to Top Shelf Productions
notifying them that copies of the anthology Stripburger had been
seized, charging that the stories “Richie Bush” by Peter Kuper and
“Moj Stub” (translated, “My Pole”) by Bojan Redzic constituted
“clearly piratical copies” of registered and recorded copyrights. The
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has retained counsel to challenge these
seizures.

“Richie Bush,” appearing in Stripburger (Vol. 12) #37, is a four-page
parody of Richie Rich that also satirizes the Bush Administration by
superimposing the personalities of the President’s cabinet on the
characters from the comic. “My Pole,” appearing in Stripburger (Vol.
3) # 4-5, which was published in 1994, is an eight-page ecology
parable in Slovenian that makes visual homage to Snoopy, Charlie
Brown, and Woodstock in three panels. Customs seized five copies of
the issue with the Peanuts reference and fourteen copies of the issue
containing “Richie Bush.” The stories were both published in
the middle of their respective issues and no graphics from either
story appeared on the covers.

Top Shelf is the American agent for Stripburger, an Eastern European
comics publisher that releases anthologies of comics from cartoonists
around the globe. The comics that were seized were sent along as an
extra in a shipment of The Miniburger Dirty Dozen, a boxed set of mini
comics that Top Shelf imported to offer in the Direct Market and at
conventions. Top Shelf did not order the seized issues of the
anthology.

Upon investigating the shipment, Customs released the copies of
Miniburger, but held the issues of Stripburger, giving Top Shelf
thirty days to either forfeit the shipment, request administrative
relief, or initiate court action.

At the urging of Stripburger, Top Shelf and CBLDF President Chris
Staros brought the case to the attention of the Fund as a potential
news story. CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein felt the
matter warranted serious legal attention, so it was sent to Burton
Joseph, the Fund’s legal counsel, whose opinion was that Customs
was unlawfully holding First Amendment protected speech. The option
of pursuing court action on First Amendment grounds was then taken to
the CBLDF Board of Directors, which unanimously voted 8-0 to take up
the case; Chris Staros recused himself from the vote.

On November 24, the Fund retained counsel in Charleston, SC who
hand-delivered a letter to Customs stating that the comics are
protected under existing First Amendment case law and should be either
immediately released or that court action should be initiated.

“In this case, it looks like Customs is overreaching its
authority,” Staros says. “The comics in question are clearly
within the acceptable bounds of parody, and there is absolutely no
likelihood that consumers would confuse these works with the subjects
that they are parodying.”

Brownstein stated, “The stories that were seized are short segments
within larger anthologies that in no way represented the content as
anything other than what it is. The charge that these are piratical
copies of existing copyrights is not only wrong-headed, but the
seizure amounts to an unlawful prior restraint of protected speech. It
is our hope that Customs will recognize that they have acted in error
in seizing these stories and release them immediately. If not, we are
prepared to go to court to protect the First Amendment rights that are
endangered by this misguided action.”

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