Batman’s vehicle of choice has had a lot of different looks over the 75 years it’s been around—but an ongoing legal case over unlicensed replicas based on the 1966 and 1989 versions of the Batmobile called into question whether DC had the right to copyright the car. Turns out, despite the myriad redesigns, they do.
DC’s lawsuit with Mark Towle, the owner of “Gotham Garage”, a manufacturer of replica cars from movies and TV—specifically the Batmobiles from 1966’s Batman TV show and Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie—has been going on for the last four years. DC and Warner Bros. have long held a copyright for the Batmobile, but Towle argued that because, at its core, the Batmobile was simply a modified automobile, that copyright was invalid—the U.S. Copyright Act states that “useful articles” like cars, appliances and clothing can’t be protected.
Towle’s argument was rejected in court last year, but following an appeal, it was reaffirmed today in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals by Judge Sandra Ikuta, who rejected Towle’s appeal of last year’s decision:
In addition to its status as ‘a highly-interactive vehicle, equipped with high-tech gadgets and weaponry used to aid Batman in fighting crime,’ the Batmobile is almost always bat-like in appearance, with a bat-themed front end, bat wings extending from the top or back of the car, exaggerated fenders, a curved windshield, and bat emblems on the vehicle. This bat-like appearance has been a consistent theme throughout the comic books, television series, and motion picture, even though the precise nature of the bat-like characteristics have changed from time to time.
I mean, we always knew the Batmobile was special, but it’s nice to get some judicial recognition. Plus, it’s always fun to hear judges get a bit geeky over comic books, isn’t it? Ikuta even managed to drop a Batman ‘66 quote into her decision:
As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential.’ Here, we conclude that the Batmobile character is the property of DC, and Towle infringed upon DC’s property rights when he produced unauthorized derivative works of the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1966 television show and the 1989 motion picture.
DC are going all in against Towle now that his argument has been declined: they’re seeking a permanent injunction preventing the production of more Batmobile replicas, complete destruction of every Batmobile in Gotham Garage’s ownership, and damages of around $750,000 per car.