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CBLDF: US Customs Seizes Comics

Official Press Release

On October 27, U.S. Customs sent a letter to Top Shelf Productionsnotifying them that copies of the anthology Stripburger had beenseized, 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. TheComic Book Legal Defense Fund has retained counsel to challenge theseseizures.

"Richie Bush," appearing in Stripburger (Vol. 12) #37, is a four-pageparody of Richie Rich that also satirizes the Bush Administration bysuperimposing the personalities of the President's cabinet on thecharacters from the comic. "My Pole," appearing in Stripburger (Vol.3) # 4-5, which was published in 1994, is an eight-page ecologyparable in Slovenian that makes visual homage to Snoopy, CharlieBrown, and Woodstock in three panels. Customs seized five copies ofthe issue with the Peanuts reference and fourteen copies of the issuecontaining "Richie Bush." The stories were both published inthe middle of their respective issues and no graphics from eitherstory appeared on the covers.

Top Shelf is the American agent for Stripburger, an Eastern Europeancomics publisher that releases anthologies of comics from cartoonistsaround the globe. The comics that were seized were sent along as anextra in a shipment of The Miniburger Dirty Dozen, a boxed set of minicomics that Top Shelf imported to offer in the Direct Market and atconventions. Top Shelf did not order the seized issues of theanthology.

Upon investigating the shipment, Customs released the copies ofMiniburger, but held the issues of Stripburger, giving Top Shelfthirty days to either forfeit the shipment, request administrativerelief, or initiate court action.

At the urging of Stripburger, Top Shelf and CBLDF President ChrisStaros brought the case to the attention of the Fund as a potentialnews story. CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein felt thematter warranted serious legal attention, so it was sent to BurtonJoseph, the Fund's legal counsel, whose opinion was that Customswas unlawfully holding First Amendment protected speech. The optionof pursuing court action on First Amendment grounds was then taken tothe CBLDF Board of Directors, which unanimously voted 8-0 to take upthe case; Chris Staros recused himself from the vote.

On November 24, the Fund retained counsel in Charleston, SC whohand-delivered a letter to Customs stating that the comics areprotected under existing First Amendment case law and should be eitherimmediately released or that court action should be initiated.

"In this case, it looks like Customs is overreaching itsauthority," Staros says. "The comics in question are clearlywithin the acceptable bounds of parody, and there is absolutely nolikelihood that consumers would confuse these works with the subjectsthat they are parodying."

Brownstein stated, "The stories that were seized are short segmentswithin larger anthologies that in no way represented the content asanything other than what it is. The charge that these are piraticalcopies of existing copyrights is not only wrong-headed, but theseizure amounts to an unlawful prior restraint of protected speech. Itis our hope that Customs will recognize that they have acted in errorin seizing these stories and release them immediately. If not, we areprepared to go to court to protect the First Amendment rights that areendangered by this misguided action."

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