IP & Copyright

One More (Legal) Reason You Can’t Be Batman

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With nearly 13,000,000 likes on Facebook, it comes as no surprise that Batman has a large group of devoted fans who likely relish the idea of traveling in true Dark Knight fashion. Mark Towle, owner of Gotham Garage and manufacturer of functional Batmobile replicas, has made that dream a reality for many loyal fans and avid car collectors. Boasting ticket prices of approximately $90,000, Towle’s vehicles include features such as “custom bat insignias, wheel bats” and a “bat steering wheel.” However, the iconic Batmobile, driven by the comic book hero in his efforts to protect Gotham, is now exclusively available to Batman himself. A court has ruled that the iconic crime fighting vehicle, equipped with onboard weapons systems, has enough distinct character traits to be eligible for copyright protection and holding that Towle’s replicas qualify as infringement.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for Central California issued a 28-page opinion, written by Judge Sandra Ikuta, affirming a ruling against Towle, who advertised his vehicles as the “Batmobile” and marketed them on his website batmobilereplicas.com.

DC Comics, who initiated an infringement lawsuit against Towle in May 2011, holds the rights to the Batman character, as well as all of his crime-fighting adventures. Towle argued that the protection of the Batman character does not extend to the car and that The Batmobile, as it appeared in the 1966 television show and 1989 film, is not subject to copyright protection.

However, Ikuta wrote Wednesday that “no matter its specific physical appearance, The Batmobile is a ‘crime-fighting’ car with sleek and powerful characteristics that allow Batman to maneuver quickly while he fights villains.” Therefore the vehicle qualifies as a comic book character, identifiably distinct by its features and protectable by copyright.

In its decision, the court engaged in some serious (and bad-ass) legal analysis, examining the car’s history of tearing up “the street like a cyclone,” making specific reference to its “jet engine” and referring to the vehicle as a “sidekick.” Careful consideration was given to the “emergency bat turn,” the automobile’s “Batmissle mode” and the “flame-shooting tubes that undoubtedly give the Batmobile far more power than an ordinary car.”

“As Batman so sagely told Robin,” Ikuta concluded, “In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential.”




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