Holy Lawsuit Batman! 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Upholds D.C. Comics Copyright

12/10/2015 | Business Litigation

In September the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of D.C. Comics for copyright protection of the Batmobile.  Judge Sandra Ikuta, a member of the three panel appellate court, quoted Batman in her opinion, “In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential.”  (Batman once said this to his crime-fighting partner, Robin) 

The lawsuit was filed by D.C. Comics after a California man, Mark Towle, began making and selling replica Batmobiles for $90,000.  Towle runs a business called Gotham Garage where he sells replicas of cars featured in movies and television shows.  Towle’s attorneys argued the Batmobile was not subject to copyright as a car cannot fall under copyright protection since it is not a work of art.  Towle also argued the replica Batmobiles he made and sold did not even look like the Batmobiles featured in the D.C. comic books but, instead, looked like Batmobiles seen in the television series and 1989 film.  D.C. apparently does not own the copyright to those Batmobile models. 

The court disagreed with Towle, finding the Batmobile has consistent character traits that can be protected by copyright.  The court found the Batmobile is directly linked to the character Batman and his crime-fighting mission, and has certain characteristics as a result.  Among the Batmobile’s characteristics the court cited were its “bat-like” features of sleekness, power, and maneuverability.  Regardless of the model of Batmobile (whether in comics, tv, or movies) these innate characteristics were not altered. 

The first Batmobile was introduced in the Detective Comics #27, the first Batman story.  There, the car was a simple red convertible with no special functions.  The name “Batmobile” was not adopted until Detective Comics #48 in 1941.  By then, the Batmobile had developed some bat-like characteristics, including tailfins scalloped to resemble a bat’s wings.  In the 1960s television series, the Batmobile memorably featured a bat-phone, police cut-in switch, and smoke screen.  The Batmobile and its features became a staple for the caped crusader in comic books, television series, and movies created to this day. 

“To the Batmobile!”