22
$\begingroup$

In a world that's essentially a carbon copy of our own, through mean's no one knows how, people started developing superpowers. With seemingly no rhyme or reason, people got powers of all shapes and sizes, like a woman who can fly to the stars, or a man who can turn into a flaming peacock. Some people used these gifts to do heroic things, while others used them to commit various crimes. All of a sudden, heroes and villains that seemed ripped straight from comic books became a reality. Yet, some people don't want to use their new abilities for either crime or for crimefighting. Some people want to use their gifts to make some cash. Like Tobias, a man who can understand animals, wants to open a pseudo-Veterinarian clinic where people can go and pay him to figure out what's bothering their pets. Or Lucy, the demon girl who wants to open up a tourist service with her sentient bus that can go into the Underworld. Or Jeffery, a giant half-spider, half-man who, with the help of his children, can use his silk to make intricately woven clothing, and the methods which he does so could revolutionize the fashion industry. For every hero or villain out there, there's someone else with a power who wants to use their new gifts to start their own business or try and make some cash.

Assuming that every law in regards to businesses and business practices remained the same as people started developing powers, what would have to change for people to be able to legally use their powers in their own, or other people's, companies?

$\endgroup$
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ We'd likely need to renew the existing laws to ensure that such services are still ethical, sanitary and safe (tour through the underworld - nice but does your bus protect everyone from any and all of hek's beasts? $\endgroup$ – ProjectApex May 27 at 22:47
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ What would need to change that would allow people to profit from their non-super traits, skills and knowledge? Nothing, people already do that. But that's essentially the same question. As with that question, the only issues might the permits, certifications, degrees or similar things needed, but this can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. $\endgroup$ – NotThatGuy May 28 at 13:05
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Why would any change be needed? I have long used my own superpower (of being really good at coding :-)) to make money. There are also "pet psychics" who claim to tell you what your animals are thinking. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf May 28 at 16:03
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ your main issue may be abilities that let people do things normally only possible with regulated machinery or products, like flight which are regulated above a certain altitude. $\endgroup$ – John May 28 at 17:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ There's a nice book, The Law of Superheroes, that goes into how courts might rule on several traditional superpower comic book plots based on existing laws. $\endgroup$ – user2352714 May 30 at 1:08

10 Answers 10

46
$\begingroup$

In the US at least, nothing. And I can't imagine it would be much different elsewhere.

Like Tobias, a man who can understand animals, wants to open a pseudo-Veterinarian clinic where people can go and pay him to figure out what's bothering their pets.

There are licensure issues for veterinary services, just like there are licensure requirements for human medical services. As long as Tobias is licensed, there's no reason he couldn't use his powers to improve his veterinary skill. And if he isn't licensed, there is no reason he can't accept payment to tell people what their pets are thinking. Even if the law doesn't recognize his powers, that's not materially different from accepting payment for, e.g., fortune telling, which is legal.

Or Lucy, the demon girl who wants to open up a tourist service with her sentient bus that can go into the Underworld.

Does she have a drivers license? Do the tourists sign liability releases? At some point, someone might decide to challenge Lucy on whether or not the tourists require passports, and if customs and border control need to be involved, given that the Underworld probably isn't US territory... but there are existing businesses that already deal with that. The supernatural nature of her particular services would not be relevant.

Or Jeffery, a giant half-spider, half-man who, with the help of his children, can use his silk to make intricately woven clothing, and the methods which he does so could revolutionize the fashion industry.

The only tricky bit here is that the product is made from the output of Jeffery's own body, and there are issues with selling human body parts. But you could probably argue that silk is analogous to hair in this regard, and it is legal to sell human hair and use it in consumer products (like extension and wigs)--so there may be a lawsuit over this, but it is not foregone that the law would actually have to change to permit it.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ I think some superpowers would conflict with the law. Precognition + stock market (would that be considered insider trading?) and necromancy + copyright/ ip would be an interesting question $\endgroup$ – Zibelas May 28 at 9:00
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The silk is a product of his body, not a part, so it's unlikely that law would apply (though lawyers can sometimes twist things pretty badly). $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec May 28 at 10:29
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Zibelas hm, damn, i guess? At least THAT would be a lengthy lawsuit. $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok May 28 at 12:18
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @JanHudec Effectively there are already 3 human body "products" commercially used. Besides hair, there is milk (for babies that can't take artificail milk replacement, cheese made of human milk exists as well, and some people have a sexual attraction to human milk) and there is urine of pregnant women (to extract certain hormones to use in fertility enhancing medication). So current laws can already cope. $\endgroup$ – Tonny May 28 at 12:33
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @Tonny There's also blood, sperm, and eggs, though whether these can be sold or just donated depends on where in the world you live. Post mortem, you can harvest numerous organs for donation and transplant as well. Some organs can even be given by live donors, such as kidneys or parts of the liver. Again, I'm not sure if you can be paid for these in most places, unless you count selling them on the black market... $\endgroup$ – Darrel Hoffman May 28 at 17:45
17
$\begingroup$

As logan said, there isn't much you have to change to allow people do stuff, mostly because laws are made to prohibit things, not for allowing them. Nobody needs a law to allow them to eat, but society have laws so nobody can keep you from eating (a.k.a.: killing you by hunger).

So expanding on this the most changes on laws will be to make sure nobody is using their newfound abilities to screw other people, like:

  • forbid contracts when brainwashing is suspected
  • using live humans to fabricate products
  • make bad weather to disrupt normal logistics
  • etc.

Now, if this world is a carbon copy of ours then you have to keep in mind that laws are also made when somebody is making a lot of money with their work and the state/powers that be ain't receiving their share, so expect stuff like:

  • travel tax for going to the underworld
  • special taxation on items moved trough portals instead of normal ways, so as to give them a "fair chance"
  • the government shutting down your panacea-selling company because it's not approved by the FDA
  • needing medical licence to fix people, even if what you're doing is rewind time on their lost limbs or making them grow new ones.
  • etc.
| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "the government shutting down your panacea-selling company because it's not approved by the FDA" That'd be the very first law passed in this regard, we all know it. But great explanation as to WHY almost no new laws would be passed, Logan missed that aspect :) $\endgroup$ – Hobbamok May 28 at 12:19
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ That's when you market your cure as a "supplement" or "spiritual remedy" instead of a medical service. US has some really screwy loopholes for medicines that are "not medicines". $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 28 at 13:17
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ i know, but if i buy a panacea bottle and has that small ink of "this is a supplement, not actual medicine an is not approved by the FDA" it kinda lose some of its glory. still buying it though $\endgroup$ – KiraraVS May 28 at 14:56
8
$\begingroup$

Logan covered your specific examples, so I'll be more general.

Except one detail: Jefferey employs his children. Child employment? Be very careful about that!

The most important question here is "what is a person?", the most basic qualification for being a citizen. In our world, it is very rarely a problem to decide what is a person, what is an animal and what is neither. In your world it might be trickier. Demons? Half-spiders? Children of half-spiders? Somebody needs to make some laws about that.

In some mixed couples, the human can be accused of zoophilia and/or animal abuse.

Your focus is not superheroes, but I need to say one word about them: Vigilantism. Most jurisdictions have very strict laws about what private citizens can do in terms of law enforcement. What one person calls a citizen's arrest, another will call assault. While this is not the focus of your story, it is likely to be in the background somewhere, for example as a reason for a character to choose a peaceful profession instead.

As KiraraVS wrote telepathy and related powers will require new laws. One can make the case that this is just spying and coercion by other means, but at the very least there will need to be case law deciding how to interpret existing laws in the new context.

A whole lot of laws will need to be interpreted in new contexts. Lawyers are going to get richer.

Then there is work safety rules. These can be laws, regulations or union rules. Superman can argue that it would be perfectly safe for him to grab a girder on the ground, fly up to the top floor of a building under construction and hold it in place while other workers fasten it into the structure.

Don't expect the union to agree. They will argue that a) Rules Must Be Followed and b) Those rules are there to protect not just Superman but the other workers too. One moment of inattention and that girder has crashed into another worker and killed them.

Other than that, don't be too concerned about what would actually happen in our world. This is your world! As long as you make it believable, we will believe!

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Worth noting that the reasons (even if not expressly states) the union would probably disagree won't have to be related to safety only. A girder can knock a worker to the ground because of "one moment of inattention" even without Superman's involvement. It'll probably seem more worrying for the union that employing Superman would put multiple people out of work - there would be no need for crane operators to exist, for example. $\endgroup$ – Neo May 28 at 8:51
  • $\begingroup$ Superman would certainly lose his OSHA card for lifting so far above safety regulations, but the thing about superman is that he could be his own construction company. With super speed and strength, he could build an entire house without any heavy equipment overhead faster than a whole construction crew as long as he holds all the right licenses. OSHA rules don't apply in sole proprietorships... That said his state plumbing board might take offense to him using laser eyes as a means of pipe-fitting; so, he may want to subcontract a regular plumber/pipe fitter for boring old welding. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 28 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ Some family businesses face less stringent regulations for employing minor children. The laws vary by jurisdiction, of course. $\endgroup$ – EvilSnack May 28 at 15:52
7
$\begingroup$

There is going to be a conflict with the law with certain powers. A few I can think of:

  • Anything with necromancy. Do you need to pay your skeletons/ zombies if they work for you? Can you let them work for you 24/7? Are you entitled to their pension? Are you even allowed in the first place to use the dead body? Are they considered dead in regards of inheritance, copyright and IP rights?
  • Precognition + stock market/ lottery/ gambling/ etc. Does it count as insider trading? Is it cheating?
  • Cloning/ splitting yourself. Are you responsible if a clone would commit a crime if it can act autonomous?
  • Flying ability, would cause quite a bit of trouble with radio communication, restricted air space.
  • Speeders - are they allowed to use the high way since they are not a motored vehicle but reach the required speed? Are they affected by the imposed speed limit?
  • Space compression - If you can create pocket dimension, who owns the land, can you rent or build on it?
  • x-ray vision - is it considered molesting for simply using your eyes?
| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Your speedster could get a jaywalking ticket for using roads intended for vehicle, but as long as he stays on designated sidewalks and crosswalks and obeys traffic lights, he can run as fast as he wants. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki May 28 at 14:01
  • $\begingroup$ cloning would be a huge can of worms. if the clone is autonomous, he is not very different from simply having a twin. but if the clone commits a crime, it might be hard to prove it wasn't you, unless he cooperates. additionally, if you can create your clone, is it a new human being? what rights does it have, and specifically, does it have any rights to the original's property? are you allowed to get rid of it, or would that be murder? $\endgroup$ – Gnudiff May 28 at 20:03
  • $\begingroup$ Cloning also have problems with who pays the charge: do you put the original in jail or the clone? how can you be sure that you arrested the right clone and he didn't ALSO made a clone to skip sentence? or worst, he lets himself be caught and then just rejoin the original and disappears from the cell. $\endgroup$ – KiraraVS May 31 at 0:29
4
$\begingroup$

Abilities which are analogous to real ones we have now won't be an issue, or those which don't inherently effect others won't be an issue.

For example, let us consider a hypothetical superhuman from the US Midwest named Clark. Clark has several amazing superhuman abilities: he's immensely strong, he's virtually invulnerable, he can shoot energy beams from his eyes, has enhanced senses including the ability to see through things, and he can fly.

The strength and invulnerability aren't remotely an issue. Legally, it doesn't make a difference if he can bench-press buildings or bullets bounce off him; so long as he doesn't harm someone else or causes damage to property (the same as anyone else, only obviously a lot easier for him), who cares? No changes to any existing laws are required.

The flight thing would require rules because that inherently can interact with others. So the FAA and international organizations would require new class rules regarding flying beings: perhaps they'd also be required to wear some kind transponder to alert air traffic control and aircraft, and file some kind of flight plan if going high enough into commercial airspace. Unless, of course, they were in the military in which case military rules would apply. So some changes, but nothing too drastic.

The other two groups of powers Clark has would be the problem. First, the energy beams. I could see them being treated like firearms. In some jurisdictions that have firearm legislation, Clark might have to be registered, so that if authorities find someone with two holes burned through them, they might question him to his whereabouts. He could be restricted in when and where he could use them legally, and threatening to burn someone would be considered the same as brandishing a gun. On the other hand, you can't confiscate his laser vision either, so not a perfect analogy.

Legally the most problematic would be his enhanced senses and how they would interact with privacy laws.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
  • $\begingroup$ re: flight, I'm not sure. All flight rules now are around operating an aircraft of some kind, and there are exceptions for personal aircraft at that (para-gliders, "the fan man" etc.) It may take some untangling, but I don't think any FAA rules state "fly ...." I think they all say some variation of "operate an aircraft". $\endgroup$ – coteyr May 28 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ Lazer are regulated by FDA. FAA won't be an issue. But he better be able to change the wavelenght/color or he will be ask to remove his eyes in some country. $\endgroup$ – xdtTransform May 29 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ US law won't consider his eyes firearms. Firearms are narrowly defined, AFIAK only gunpowder based weapons. Even anything based on loose black powder isn't a firearm. $\endgroup$ – Loren Pechtel May 29 at 15:04
3
$\begingroup$

In many jurisdictions, you'll have a pain with Health & Safety regulations.

Employing superman to work on a construction site? You can't make much use of any of his powers because of HSE regulations. He'll still need to wear PPE even though you can shoot him, and he won't be allowed to lift beyond the standard limits for fear he injures himself.

You'd have the same issues if you employed a champion weightlifter today – even if Žydrūnas Savickas can deadlift 524kg, UK HSE says he can't lift more than 10kg to head-height (https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg143.pdf).

Similarly, most physical superpowers are only useful because they exceed the limits of what a normal human can do safely. Expect a long drawn out court battle as to whether telekinesis counts as manual lifting.

Aquaman still needs the correct scuba gear and training to dive.

It doesn't matter that they won't be injured so won't make a claim – you can still get a big fine for violating the rules. And don't worry, the unions are definitely going to kick up a fuss on this one once they realise one meta can replace 10-50+ men.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

People, in fact, DO develop diverse superpowers (as in: no one else can do that and most people think it is not possible in general) all the time. See sports, science, technology, art, etc, ...

Most jurisdictions don't care what you do as long as the authorities' tax income is not hurt and no one loudly complains (and a lot of them don't care even then).

One way or another, the regulation comes AFTER some new activity emerges.

Blasphemy (and related) laws in some countries can be some kind of a problem - to an extent. They tend to be enforced by people who don't like diversity in general and are given broad discretion about what blasphemy is or is not.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

I think there's a parallel here, with the invention of electricity generation, and with the invention of telegraphy/telephony/radio. Some laws were modified, and of course, new regulatory agencies were put in place.

The best comment I've every heard on this is most likely spurious (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Michael_Faraday), but on the practical value of electricity: "Why, sir, there is every probability that you will soon be able to tax it."

Rest assured, taxes and regulation, no matter what superpowers come into play.

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

You are going to need a few changes. Tobias can simply tell people what's wrong with their pets, but what about his brother that can do the same thing with humans? Now you're into areas that require a doctor's license--something he doesn't have the credentials for, nor which is he qualified. (Being able to diagnose doesn't do you any good for prescribing or surgery.)

Note that this a real-world problem--AI rather than superpowers. Not too long ago I was watching a program about how England was handing AI doctors--give them a bunch of cases and compare their diagnoses with experts. Any information field that need licensing could be handled this way--show your answers are as good as those with the appropriate licenses.

It's going to get hard when you have a power that requires a license to actually do something. Suppose your power is to heal by touch. Demonstrate you can heal animals. It's going to get extremely hard when you have something that can't be demonstrated without risk--what about the guy whose power is to heal humans. To a minor level it can be demonstrated by deliberately injuring the person and let him heal himself, but what about things for which that isn't feasible? (Say, rejuvenate organs of the torso, but only in humans. Do it wrong and the target dies.)

| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$
2
$\begingroup$

Vigilante: My Hero Academia Illegals pointed out that most "traversal" powers like Spider-Man's webs, Superman's flight, and super speed in general would likely be banned within an urban setting.

  • One of the characters in Illegals uses his super-parkour powers to get somewhere when running late...and completely tears up the sidewalk and pavement while doing so, causing traffic jams wherever they went and forcing repair crews to scramble to try and repair the damage to the public structures they caused.
  • The FAA wouldn't be thrilled about superhumans flying around in their low air space when air traffic is normally tightly controlled to avoid accidents.
  • Spider-Man would be leaving webbing everywhere, which would be a huge hazard for people. Spider-Man at least justifies it by his webbing being designs to break down after two hours, but not all superheroes that "web-sling" do this.
  • Flash's super speed at a certain point would be highly dangerous, creating constant sonic booms, breaking windows, and at some point the winds would be dangerous just to be near, something that is pointed out within his own comics. If the Flash tripped over someone while running at 450 miles per hour that would be about the same amount of force as someone being hit by a car going 25 miles per hour. The issues with a constant sonic boom are part of the reason that the Concorde jets were only allowed to fly over open ocean and one of the reasons they fell out of favor.
| improve this answer | |
$\endgroup$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.