Here’s the CITY OF HEROES software:

City of Heroes is a “massive multi-player role playing game” that allows the user to create a superhero, using attributes in the software (mutant, fighting style, etc.).  It’s unclear just how much the users’ heroes can deviate from the templates supplied by COH.  The guy in the front with the helmet is a super hero named Statesman who walks the user through creating their own hero.  There’s a bigger picture of Statesman in the flash animation here.

Marvel Comics says that City of Heroes infringes Marvel’s trademarks and copyrights, and has filed this complaint. Marvel says that, for example, Statesman, is just like Captain America, except that COH put the helmet of Magneto (a Marvel villain) on him. Here is Marvel’s Captain America:















And here’s Magneto (the X-Men nemesis) wearing his helmet:</p















Here is a Greek Helmet from approximately 600 BC:


Marvel also argues that COH has committed contributory infringement by allowing fans to create heroes who are similar to Marvel’s characters (for example, the software allows you to create a character who has claws and regenerative powers, just like Marvel’s Wolverine (and the Phoenix of Egyptian, Greek and Roman myth)).

Here is a column by Fred von Lohmann discussing this case and Marvel’s contributory infringement theory.  In addition to critiquing Marvel’s legal theories, Mr. von Lohmann calls this case ‘an assault on the basic expressive rights of the fans.’