Friday, November 13, 2009

Tony Stark and Intellectual Property, Part 2

Cover to Iron Man v4, Issue 28

I really enjoyed the reader response to the previous post. Thanks to everyone for the insightful comments.

The question posed is whether Tony Stark, as inventor of the Iron Man armor, has the right to control and destroy his creations when these creations are enormously powerful and can greatly affect the course of human history. Does Tony Stark have the right to distribute this technology as he sees fit?

To use an analogy that I think is somewhat effective, should Robert Oppenheimer be allowed to keep atomic bomb technology in his house and only give it to people he likes?

I think not, especially since Tony Stark has shown himself to be an a rather unstable person and hasn't shown the best judgement regarding his armor.

For years in Iron Man comics (namely in the first Michelinie/Layton run and Denny O'Neil's run), Nick Fury has tried to get the specifications for the Iron Man armor. He even went so far as to try a hostile takeover of Stark Enterprises. The tone of the stories seemed to paint Fury as the villain but who was really right in that struggle? Nick Fury, who wants to use the Iron Man armor to protect the lives of his agents and make S.H.I.E.L.D. a more capable international peacekeeping force? Or Tony Stark who wants to prevent his armor from falling into the wrong hands? Granted, Nick Fury hasn't always shown the best judgement in the past, but he's usually been on the side of the angels. And he has the decision making power of an entire international peace-keeping force behind him. Had Tony given in to Fury's request, how many lives of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents could have been saved by protective Iron Man armor? How many threats could S.H.I.E.L.D. have dealt with directly without having to wait hours for superheroes to show up? How many lives could have been saved in that time? Finally, who would be more effective in Iron Man armor, trained military agents or a former alcoholic billionaire playboy?

Tony's bad decision making continued in the Armor Wars, when Justin Hammer used industrial espionage to steal Tony's armor designs and sell them on the black market. Tony's response was to go on a rampage and destroy the armors of all individuals (heroes and villains) who could have had elements of his armor designs incorporated into their suits. In the process of this, Iron Man took down the Controller, the Raiders, the Beetle, the Titanium Man, and the Crimson Dynamo. Unfortunately, he also took down the Mandroids of SHIELD and the Guardsmen who protect the superhero prison the Vault. Tony also beat up Stingray thinking his armor used Iron Man technology (it didn't) and beat up Captain America while attacking the Vault. In addition, Iron Man's attack on the Vault actually released several super-villains including Mr. Hyde, Titania, the Griffin, Vibro, and the Armadillo. Iron Man's actions caused him to become a wanted criminal. He actually had to fake his own death to avoid getting arrested. Tony's armor designs were safe but he left a lot of destruction in his wake.

Iron Man v1, Issue #225, art by Bob Layton

Later in The Best Defense storyline, the U.S. government found some of Tony's left over armor and reverse engineered it, integrating some of the components they found into their weapons and tanks. Unfortunately, the technology was poorly adapted and the lives of U.S. servicemen was put into jeopardy by malfunctioning tech. What was Tony's solution? Become the Secretary of Defense in order to personally supervise his tech.

In Execute Program, Tony's specialty armors were hacked by a virus and went on rampage. His armors went on to beat up the Avengers, Namor, and ironically clobber the Fantastic Four. Only Tony was able to dismantle them using his personal knowledge of his own tech.

Iron Man v4, Issue # 12, art by Adi Granov

In all of these cases, Tony Stark has shown increasingly poor judgement regarding his Iron Man armor. He has shown egotistical paranoia regarding his designs, withholding them from the international community. The ostensible reason for this is to keep his technology out of the wrong hands. This doesn't really seem to work though. Villians continually get their hands on and misuse Iron Man designs. In fact, all Tony has done is remove the ability of other heroes and the federal government from utilizing his technology. He's also shown that his Iron Man designs are sufficiently advanced to out-fox Reed Richards in the short term. The end result of this is that stolen Iron Man tech is unbeatable unless Tony Stark is there to stop it.

Clearly from the evidence listed above, Tony Stark is not a man who is mentally stable to hold complete dominion over the Iron Man designs. But that brings us to another, more current question. Does Tony have the right to erase his mind as he has done in "World's Most Wanted" which just finished in the Invincible Iron Man title?

This is a problematic question. Naturally, Tony's memories, thoughts, and emotions are his own. He should be allowed to do with these as he wishes. But his brain doesn't just contain emotion and memories. It contains designs, ideas, and the secret identities of every registered super-hero which he took illegally. That information belongs to the government and Tony's theft of it definitively makes him the the titular "World's Most Wanted." Granted, in the current state of the Marvel Universe, the power of government has fallen into the hands of a decidely evil bastard, Norman Osborn (a truly ridiculous turn of events, but hey... its comics). But Norman Osborn was put in his position by elected officials and therefore has more right to the info than Tony does. Stark may have the moral high ground in this case but legally (as some readers pointed out in the comments for the previous post) he's wrong.

But Tony isn't only destroying his identity and a superhero's secret identities. He's also destroying all his knowledge of current and future technology. Tony's erasure of his mind reflects his lifetime pattern of egomaniacal control of his Iron Man designs. When he can't control the use of the Armor, he destroys it. In Tony's mind, no one else can properly use his technology. Now, as always, Tony seeks to hoarde his technology and prevent the positive development that could result if his designs were opened up to the scientific community. At the very least, Tony's armor designs could be used to make better pacemakers for people with coronary heart disease. But all that is gone because Tony took it upon himself to destroy all of his knowledge. At least until 4 issues from now when everything goes back to normal.

By the way, anyone who didn't read the comments on the previous post definitely should. You folks have a lot of well-formed arguments and I'm interested to hear what else you have to say.

22 comments:

jamused said...

So, let me get this straight: you are advocating that the government be allowed to...what? Torture or use some kind of high-tech mind rape device on individuals, not even for information that they've stolen and when they've destroyed the other sources, but on the general principle that they have ideas that could be valuable? Or would it just be imprisoning them to prevent them from jeopardizing their precious ideas, while forcing them to work as slave labor in a government lab?

Will said...

There needs to be a distinction here between thought and acting on those thoughts. Tony Stark should be allowed to come up with ideas and destroy those ideas if he finds them too dangerous. For instance, in our world if someone actually came up with a way to create a black hole that could be contained and turned into a weapon, that person should have the right to make their own moral decision on whether to produce that idea (although, his or her employer would have some say - which actually raises another problem with much of Stark's actions, most of his tech is owned by his company, not him, and he keeps committing corporate espionage, etc. to protect his invention). In this scenario, I don't think, as Jamused points out, the government should be allowed to steal the ideas from a person.

However, once a device is put into the public sphere, such as Iron Man's armor, the government has a clear interest in regulating and possibly controlling that technology. Does anyone really fault our government for tightly controlling who has information on the creation of nuclear weapons? The Iron Man armor is pretty darn devestating and, once Stark decided to build it and use it, I have no problems with the goverment seeking to gain control. If anything, all of the points in this post make it clear that Stark has failed entirely as the sole keeper of this technology. Will the government be guaranteed to do better, of course not, but it would be hard pressed to do worse. Of course, in Marvel world, the U.S. government is always one step away from being taken over by the Red Skull, the Sentinels, or some other evil organization, so perhaps Tony Stark's act of civil disobediance should be honored. However, if such technology existed in our world, I would much prefer it in the hands of the U.S. military than in, for instance, Richard Branson's.

Smooge said...

I think the question is more political than economical if one can split that in the 'real' world. Tony Stark represents the ideal Ayn Rand hero.. the inventive industrialist who has to be free in order to make his world better. Everything outside of that represents the evils of Socialism. Or at least that is what is going on in Starks mind (depending on the writer :)).

Now technically the US government is supposed to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. Depending on their mood people will disagree to what extent it is these days and I would expect the same in the Marvel universe. However technically, Osborn and SHIELD are representative of the people (eg every one who isn't Tony Stark) and have the right to regulate Iron Man in the way that his inventions cause parts of New York, Chicago, or wherever he shows up to collapse (eg its a device of vast destruction).

His property having been labeled as such would be probably classified in the same way nuclear weapons are. The destruction of that data would be in some form of imprisonment mainly because it could be argued that its 'destruction' is probably as fake as his last couple of 'deaths'.

By the way, I doubt very much that Tony Stark was worried about some sort of torture... he probably would give up most of his secrets to a Miss Potts clone in a negligee and 3 shots of whiskey. [If he hasn't done so in the past.] One could argue that the world is a better place without Tony Starks mind (and I am sure the various people whose houses have been destroyed by a stray repulsor beam would agree)

Alex said...

The difference between Oppenheimer and Stark is that Oppenheimer was working for and was funded by the United States government. Scientists in the Manhattan Project were acting as a part of national security.

In Stark's case, that technology was made, funded by, and developed by himself and for his own use. Aside from superhero registration, his actions with the armor were deemed within legal grounds.

Whether Tony's ideas would help for a better humanity is besides the point, and in this sense I don't think this is a moral issue. You mention possible technologies for medical advances that Tony may be destroying, but remember that science merely provides tools; society, be it politicians or the people, decides their usage.

But you also can see why this can all go wrong. Tony doesn't give Fury and SHIELD his tech because Tony himself has no choice or say in HOW that technology is used. As you mention, Stark tries to play both sides by becoming involved with government, but even then it backfires.

Either way, I'm not sure "mental stability" is a good enough reason to denounce a man for destroying his own mind and ideas.

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Granite26 said...

If Iron Man armour is outlawed, only outlaws will have Iron Man armour?

Christian said...

Great article, but I find the comparative examples in the text don't really corrolate.

"To use an analogy that I think is somewhat effective, should Robert Oppenheimer be allowed to keep atomic bomb technology in his house and only give it to people he likes?"

But Tony Stark doesn't really do that. He doesn't share the Iron Man technology with people he like. He has made an Iron Man suit for Rhodes, but he hasn't share the schematics with him. If Rhodes reverse-engineered it, he would be guilty of theft, the same way if you have a Coca Cola drink in your house, and you manage to reverse engineer the secret formula for Coca Cola, you'd not only be guilty, but Coca Cola would have you assassinated. (Over-exaggeration, but given that only two people in the world know the formula, they're pretty protective of it.)

Secondly, Tony Stark can do with his body, thereunder including his mind, whatever he wants with it. If Oppenheimer had decided that after getting the idea for the A-bomb to drink himself (picking the legal option instead of the illegal substances route) to such a degree that he developed sever mental disabilities, he would be fully in his right to do so.


And just a nitpick with Marvel in general- Why is SHIELD, an INTERNATIONAL agency, always treated as an American agency?

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It is simple. He is over protecting his work. And in this case it's not that bad, despite Tony been so unstable there's a line that i really like " I have privatized world peace" and that is in fact what he did.. but honestly it is not bad that he keeps the designed and specifications to himself. he is protecting this technology form the wrong hands.

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sim so dep said...

I have no problems with the goverment seeking to gain control. If anything, all of the points in this post make it clear that Stark has failed entirely as the sole keeper of this technology. Will the government be guaranteed to do better, of course not, but it would be hard pressed to do worse. Of course, in Marvel world, the U.S. government is always one step away from being taken over by the Red Skull, the Sentinels, or some other evil organization, so perhaps Tony Stark's act of civil disobediance should be honored. However, if such technology existed in our world, I would much prefer it in the hands of the U.S. military than in, for instance, Richard Branson's.

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