In today’s mailbag we have questions about superhero product endorsements and the Green Lantern Corps. As always, if you have questions or post suggestions, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com or leave them in the comments.
I. Superhero Product Endorsements
Walter writes “I’m curious about the Boostermobile, an automobile in the DC Universe endorsed by Booster Gold. In Booster Gold vol. 1, #11 (1986), Booster becomes concerned that his endorsement of the car (manufactured by Brysler Motors under license of Booster Gold’s Goldstar, Inc.) may result in his becoming liable should a supervillain use the car for nefarious purposes [Ed. or if it’s simply defective]. Is there any merit to Booster’s fear?”
In practice the answer is likely to be ‘no,’ but if someone is asleep at the switch then the answer could be ‘yes.’ Ordinarily a product endorser is simply licensing his or her right of publicity to a corporation, so liability would ordinarily be limited to the corporation. The corporation, in turn, generally limits the liability of its shareholders to the amount of their investment. But what if things weren’t set up so cleanly?
For example, what if Booster got involved with some people who wanted to start a new car company? Booster provides a great superhero endorsement (and maybe some capital investment), and the others design and build the car. If the company isn’t organized as a corporation, limited liability company, or other appropriate form, then the default rule is to consider it a partnership, and Booster may be counted as a partner, especially if he invested in the company. One of the major drawbacks of a partnership is that the partners are personally liable for the partnership’s actions, even beyond their actual investment in the company. So if the hypothetical Booster Car Co. were sued, Booster could indeed be personally liable, and if he lacked the money to satisfy the judgment, he could even be forced to sell or hand over the equipment he brought from the future.
II. The Green Lantern Corps
Tom asks “Would the four Earthborn members of the Green Lantern Corps have lost their various rights and privileges of American citizenship due to having accepted the authority of a foreign power?”
As it turns out, it’s actually pretty hard to lose American citizenship. Involuntarily stripping someone of their citizenship is considered cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment. Trop v. Dulles, 356 US 86 (1958) (“use of denationalization as a punishment is barred by the Eighth Amendment”). So that leaves giving it up voluntarily, which is covered by 8 USC 1481(a). Of the 7 ways covered by that statute, there are perhaps 3 that could apply to a Green Lantern:
(2) taking an oath or making an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after having attained the age of eighteen years; or
(3) entering, or serving in, the armed forces of a foreign state if (B) such persons serve as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer; or
(4)(B) accepting, serving in, or performing the duties of any office, post, or employment under the government of a foreign state or a political subdivision thereof, after attaining the age of eighteen years for which office, post, or employment an oath, affirmation, or declaration of allegiance is required
However, all of these require that the Green Lantern Corps be (part of) a “foreign state.” The Corps is headquartered on the planet Oa and administered by the Guardians, and Oa itself might be considered a foreign state, but the Corps itself seems distinct from its location, in much the same way that the United Nations, though headquartered in New York, is distinct from the US. But even supposing that the Corps were a foreign state, there is another requirement, common to every method of renouncing citizenship, and that is intent:
A person who is a national of the United States whether by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing any of the following acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality
Although the American Green Lanterns do seem to be dedicated to the Corps for life, they are also tied to the sector containing Earth, and they have on numerous occasions saved many American lives, to put it mildly. I think it would be hard to argue that they intended to relinquish their US citizenship when they took the Green Lantern oath.
That’s all for today. Keep your questions coming in!