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Holy Intellectual Property, Batman! Batmobile Gets Copyright Protection

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on September 24, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Batmobile is one of the most recognizable cars in the world. The fins, the gadgets, the weaponry: all singular to the Caped Crusader, and all very inviting to copycats.

But those looking to steal the Batmobile's signature look better beware. The 9th Circuit has ruled that Batman's costar car is sufficiently distinctive to warrant copyright protections.

Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?

Mark Towle was making his own. The California mechanic had been recreating and selling Batmobile replicas for $90,000 a pop. When DC Comics sued for copyright infringement, Towle and his attorney claimed his Gotham Garage creations were neither artistic nor altruistic: "It's just a car. These automobiles don't fight crime."

Just a car?! Luckily, the court wasn't buying that:

"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."

I Want a Car, Chicks Dig the Car

Copyrights protect creative works in tangible form, and this protection can extent to movie characters. Courts employ a three-part test to decide if characters qualify for copyright protection:

  1. The character must have "physical as well as conceptual qualities";
  2. The character must be "sufficiently delineated" so people can recognize it as the same character across time; and
  3. The character must be "especially distinctive."

The court here found that pretty easy. Judge Sandra S. Ikuta noted the Batmobile's "bat-like external features, ready to leap into action to assist Batman in his fight against Gotham's most dangerous villains, and equipped with futuristic weaponry and technology." In an opinion that sounded like it was written by a fellow fan, she found in favor of the coolest car in comics.

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