WandaVision and the Rights of Robots
Can’t the (metal) man own some land??
Every week in my newsletter, I answer a legal question from readers.
[SPOILER ALERT — This will have spoilers for WandaVision. If you haven’t finished the show, save this for another day when you’re done.]
This week’s question comes from Megan R. via the form.
Megan asked: “No spoilers but on WandaVision, I saw Vision’s name next to Wanda’s on a legal document for a house. Could a robot own a house?”
Excellent question, Megan!
If you haven’t watched WandaVision and you really like Marvel stuff and/or television, I’d highly recommend it. As a fan of The Dick Van Dyke Show, I particularly enjoyed the references to 1960s sitcom tropes. I also love my college improv teammate and friend, Asif Ali, and will watch him in anything. He absolutely crushed his role in this show!
Now to the question. The document Wanda was seen holding was a deed for a piece of land in Westview, New Jersey. A deed is used to transfer land between owners. The person receiving the land is called the Grantee. The one transferring the land is called the Grantor. After the deed is signed, the parties record it with the county clerk, and the transfer is done.
The deed in the show listed the grantees as “Wanda Maximoff AND The Vision.” We do not see who the Grantor was. Presumably, it was the former owner of the house, but the internet has some fan theories about who gave her that deed and whether it’s from some evil doer or future villain.
CAN VISION OWN A HOUSE SINCE HE’S A ROBOT?
Not to sound like Comic Book Guy, but first of all, Vision is not just a robot. According to the MCU Fandom Wiki, “Vision is a synthezoid made from vibranium… and given life by the powerful artifact known as the Mind Stone.” Synthezoid means an android (a robot designed to resemble a human) that is “made partly or entirely of synthetic, organic-like materials.” He’s a robot with fake people guts. AND FEELINGS!
Let’s go point by point and decide whether Vision is a human or robot.
In an early episode of WandaVision, we see Vision chew a piece of gum. He’s got a human-like mouth, but when he swallows the gum, his inner gears grind to a halt. LOL A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR ROBOT WAS STOPPED BY GUM! Somebody keep that lady from the retirement home parade away from him! While he can chew gum, he apparently cannot digest it. Can any of us? One point for the human category.
The MCU Fandom Wiki also says that synthezoids don’t sleep because they run on internal batteries. This brings along with it some disturbing visuals of Wanda, a human, sleeping soundly while Vision stares blankly at the ceiling. Yikes. That is definitely creepy robot behavior. One point for the robot category.
In Captain America: Civil War, the United Nations ratified the Sokovia Accords, which purport to regulate the Avengers. Vision is one of the “enhanced individuals” who “signs” on to the Accords. If he’s merely a thing and not a human, they would not need or want his signature. Another point in the human category.
He is made of vibranium and has a bunch of wires inside him. He can walk through walls and fly. He’s got a metal Ken-doll situation going on downstairs. Another point in the robot category.
So we’re at a tie. Even if Vision is a robot, he is no ordinary one. He’s kind of like a robot+, especially since he was “given life” by the Mind Stone. The Mind Stone is a magical gem as old as the universe. It sits in the middle of Vision’s forehead, which, if rapper Lil Uzi Vert is any indication, is a very convenient place to put an irreplaceable gem.
Then, when Thanos rips off Vision’s Mind Stone in Avengers: Infinity War, Vision dies.
Sooooo…. Vision is a partially synthetic being that has been given life and can be killed and can feel feelings and sign documents? Sounds human-ish to me! But human-ish is not human, which means he doesn’t have rights, including the right to own property … right?
DO ROBOTS HAVE RIGHTS?
This is a decades-old discussion of legal theory that took me down some philosophical rabbit holes as I was researching. As a basis, when we think of rights, we tend to think of the rights of people. Heck, the U.S. Constitution starts off “We the people.”
But non-humans also have rights — namely, animals and corporations. Why is it so unthinkable that someday robots may have rights?
According to legal scholars and even a UK Supreme Court Justice, the idea of robots having rights is not too far off. Yes, this thought is disturbing. I, for one, don’t want to see these unstoppable horror machines given rights any more than you do.
The question really comes down to personhood. If a “person” has rights, what do we mean by “person”? Does that mean human beings only?
When we refer to the rights of corporations to sue, be sued, or to enter into contracts including for real estate transactions, we call that “corporate personhood.” Further, in 2010, the United States Supreme Court determined that corporations have First Amendment political rights to buy ads in all American elections in the Citizens United v. FEC decision. This means a non-human corporation has the rights to constitutional First Amendment protections. Nevermind the fact that the Constitution begins “We the people.”
If a corporation can have property rights, the right to sue, and the right to free speech, can’t we let this synthezoid and his human lady friend own a frickin’ piece of land?
IF VISION CAN’T OWN THE LAND — DOES WANDA OWN IT OUTRIGHT?
Let’s say you’re a monster who doesn’t want to see Vision and Wanda own this land together. Or, even if you do, too bad. Vision is dead.
In that case, who owns the land? For that we turn to basic property rights.
As with most legal questions, the answer is: it depends. If the wording of the deed includes language that the land is owned by the two as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” then the land will pass to the surviving co-tenant/co-owner — Wanda.
If the deed does not use that phrase, then it means that the property was owned as tenants in common. This is a different type of ownership scenario where the parties own their halves separately. Therefore, the share belonging to the deceased co-tenant (Vision) would pass to his heirs.
Who are Vision’s heirs? He and Wanda weren’t legally married. Their kids were figments of her imagination (OR WERE THEY? TBD!) He has no parents because he was Frankenstein’ed together by several creators.
So who gets the land then?
In 2017, the EU Parliament wrote a report to the Commission on Civil Law Rules on Robotics that proposes a concept of robot rights/liabilities similar to that of corporations. The determination was that “the responsibility must lie with a human and not a robot” in determining liability. I would argue that property rights would pass much the same way: to the robot’s owner.
Ok then, who “owned” Vision? Wanda? S.W.O.R.D.? S.H.I.E.L.D.? Nobody?
And, for that matter, is Vision even dead?
White Vision is out sailing through the sky trying to find himself, a reassembled synthezoid made of old Vision’s parts who has been endowed with old Vision’s thoughts and memories. After the Vision vs. White Vision fight and the Ship of Theseus conversation, perhaps White Vision is Vision now. He’s the only Vision still standing. the WandaVision Vision was contained to the Hex and went poof right along with it when the Hex was taken down.
In the WandaVision post-credits scene, Wanda hears the screams of their kids as she’s meditating. If their kids are alive out there in some alternate universe and weren’t totally destroyed when the Hex went down, then is the WandaVision Vision out there, too? And if so, what does that mean for White Vision? All this comic book universe talk is all giving me double vision. (See what I did there?)
I say Vision should have the right to own land. Corporations aren’t people, and they own land all the time. Plus, with the way robots are evolving, there may soon come a time when machines that autonomously create will be given rights over their creations, paving the way for robot property rights. Until that time, it doesn’t make much sense to say no to a being with unlimited power and a wife who is the most powerful Avenger. Probably won’t end well.
Thanks for the question!
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