U.S. Appeals Court Says Batmobile Protected by Copyright

A federal appeals court ruled in San Francisco that the Batmobile, the high-tech vehicle used by crime-fighting Batman in comics and movies, is protected by copyright.

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2013 ruling in which a federal trial judge said a Southern California mechanic infringed on DC Comics’ copyright when he made replicas of the Batmobile.

Mark Towle, the owner of Gotham Garage in Temecula, Orange County, which creates replicas of movie cars, sold the Batmobile imitations for $90,000, according to the court. His lawyer, Edwin McPherson, said Towle made “a few” of the replicas before being halted by the lawsuit, but said he didn’t know how many.

DC Comics, a subsidiary of Time Warner Inc., sued Towle in 2011. The comic company, then known as Detective Comics, created Batman in 1939 and first showed the Batmobile, with a bat-like appearance and futuristic technology, in its stories in 1941.

The appeals court, in a ruling written by Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta, said the vehicle is covered by DC Comics’ copyright because it has distinctive physical and conceptual characteristics, even though depictions have varied over the years and in different media.

The Batmobile is consistently depicted as high-tech and “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,” Ikuta wrote.

Although Towle based his replicas on the Batmobiles shown in a 1966 television series and a 1989 movie rather than the comic strips, the court said DC Comics retained its copyright for all other purposes when it allowed the television series and movie to use Batman images.

Ikuta quoted a comment Batman made to his sidekick, Robin, in one of the television episodes.

“As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,'” Ikuta wrote in the conclusion to the ruling.

A spokesman for Time Warner was not available for comment.

McPherson said Towle and his attorneys disagree with the decision and are currently considering “what options we have,” including a possible appeal.

McPherson said he believes there has not been a consistent, copyrightable image of the Batmobile because there have been 140 different depictions, showing different makes, styles and details of the car.

“The only thing they have in common is that they have four wheels,” the attorney said.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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