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Is the Batmobile Copyrightable? A Federal Judge Thinks So

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on February 03, 2012 5:01 AM

A federal judge has ruled that the Batmobile is copyrightable. Yes, it's that special.

At least DC Comics thinks so. The company sued Mark Towle, owner of Gotham Garage. He builds and sells Batmobile replicas to comic book geeks with money.

DC and its parent company Warner Bros. believe the replicas violate their Batmobile copyright and trademarks -- that Towle is somehow making people think his cars are authorized replicas.

This in spite of a clear disclaimer on his website.

Towle challenged the Batmobile copyright lawsuit, arguing that the Copyright Act does not protect useful articles. Useful articles are items that have an intrinsic utilitarian function other than conveying information or expression.

Cars are a classic example of a useful article.

However, the judge did not agree with Towle's characterization, reports Wired. There is an exception to the "useful article" rule. The law "grants copyright protection to nonfunctional, artistic elements of an automobile design that can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile."

In other words, DC owns the copyright to any design elements that have no function other than making the car look cool.

Keep in mind that this is just a preliminary ruling. The judge only ruled that the Batmobile is copyrightable -- not that a valid copyright exists. The judge must now go on a fact-finding mission and decide whether the Batmobile's unique design elements are functional or just fun.

That is, if Mark Towle continues to fight the Batmobile copyright lawsuit. Warner Bros. has a lot of money.

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