Friday, July 31, 2015

Ruling of the Week 2015.22: Beam Me Up

I see we are close to perfecting the Star Fleet-style impulse engine. It also appears that we are working on teleportation, one atom at a time. That got me wondering what Star Trek inspired devices might have been the subject of a Customs classification ruling. What I found is the Star Trek Flash Badge imported by the Kellogg Company to be included as a prize in boxes of cereal.


The plastic badges mimic the Star Fleet divisional insignia for Command, Engineering and Science plus insignia of the Klingon and Romulan Empires. Each badge contains a battery. switch and an LED. When the switch is depressed, the LED lights, illuminating the badge. According to Customs, the badges could not be worn and lacked any kind of pin to connect it to a uniform. Customs also noted that their entertainment value outweighed any utility.

Here's the interesting part. The badges were imported in bulk and then sent to cereal packaging plants to be inserted in boxes. The badges were not individually marked with their country of origin.

Let me stop here for a few observations. This ruling is from 2008 and these look to be J.J. Abrams-era badges. Here is the whole set, with a four-fingered Tony the Tiger Vulcan salute:


Here is another image of the whole set:


Of course, we should let our Geek Flag fly a little and mention that in the era during which recent Academy graduate James T. Kirk had command of the U.S.S. Enterprise (NCC-1701), the insignia was nothing more than part of the uniform. Its only function was to identify the wearer as being assigned to Command, Science, or Operations (which includes Engineering as well as Security). If you were unlucky enough to be assigned to a red-shirted job in Security, you were likely to be killed off without so much as a screen credit.

I'm concerned about this because these badges are "functional" in that they light up. That seems to indicate that they are mimicking some function in the original of which they are a model. That would lead to the conclusion that Kellogg's had somehow crossed the timeline and put a communicator badge of the sort used 80 years later on the NCC-1701-D by Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew into the context of a young Captain Kirk. Of course, the Picard-era badges did not light up, but let's put that aside.


There are a number of ways this may have happened. An easy hypothesis is that Q somehow sent them to Kellogg in 2008. This is contrary to the facts of the ruling, which state that the badges were made in China. Another possibility is that a member of the NCC-1701-D crew stumbled through a Guardian of Forever portal, thereby making a Next Generation communicator available to the reboot crew to be used by J.J. Abrams and Kellogg. I suspect that it the correct answer.

Because the badges were primarily articles of amusement, rather than actual communication devices, Customs classified them in HTSUS item 9503.00.00 as other toys, which are duty free.

But, what about the marking? In the ruling, Customs and Border Protection tells Kellogg that the badges are not properly marked with their country of origin. Do we agree with that? One might argue that if Kellogg is the purchaser and the outermost container that reaches Kellogg is marked "Made in China," which I am assuming it was, isn't that enough? After all, is the average cereal buying American concerned about the country of origin of the free toy included in the box?

That, however, is not the correct analysis. The prime directive of marking law [see what I did there?] is that every article of foreign origin must be marked with its country of origin in a conspicuous, legible, and permanent manner so as to indicate to the ultimate purchaser in the U.S. the English name of the country of origin. 19 CFR 134.11. Who is the ultimate purchaser of a free give-away? This ruling does not provide much analysis, but Customs has consistently held that it is the recipient, not the purchaser. For example, little shampoo bottles given to hotel guests must be marked with their country of origin. Umbrellas given to race track patrons also much be marked with their country of origin. So, Customs did Kellogg a favor and pointed this out.

I don't want to tread too far into the jurisdiction of Law and the Multiverse, but I do wonder about customs formalities in the 24th century. I don't ever recall hearing about the Enterprise transmitting a cargo manifest for review by local authorities. Nor do I recall hearing anything about duties being paid. Is that because Star Fleet is essentially a military operation? Keep in mind that much of the machinations of the Star Wars universe is driven by trade regulations. I suspect Lando Calrissian is all over the Cloud City customs regulations.

I feel like there is a future article in the application of customs law to Star Fleet and the Star Wars universe, but that will have to wait.

In the meantime, if you are a fan who enjoys a detailed rehash of all things Star Trek including an analysis of the morals, messages, and meaning of each episode, check out the Mission Log podcast. It makes Thursday my favorite commute into work (excluding days I ride).

1 comment:

sstabeler said...

re: Customs duties and Enterprise, not having watched much Star Trek myself, did the Enterprise crew ever actually land anything planet-side that wasn't specifically either given or traded to the actual planetary authorities? Since if so, then Customs duties wouldn't actually come up.

Either that, or Customs duties are only actually imposed when you are leaving Federaton space- sort of like how in the EU, I'm 99% sure there are no customs duties between member states.

The other option, of course, is that since the Enterprise is, well, a warship IIRC, do YOU want to be the one demanding to board it to enforce Customs regulations?