A federal appeals court affirmed this morning that the Batmobile isn't just any vehicle, but rather is distinctive enough to deserve copyright protection.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed DC Comics another victory in its four-year legal fight with Mark Towle, whose California-based Gotham Garage manufactures unlicensed replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobiles.
Towle had argued that the U.S. Copyright Act doesn't protect “useful articles,” defined as objects that have “an intrinsic utilitarian function" (for example, clothing, household appliances or, in this case, automobile functions); in short, that the Batmobile's design is merely functional. However, a federal judge didn't buy that argument, ruling in February 2013 that, "The ‘functional elements’ – e.g., the fictional torpedo launchers, the Bat-scope, and anti-fire systems – are only ‘functional’ to the extent that they helped Batman fight crime in the fictional Batman television series and movies. Thus, the Batmobile’s usefulness is a construct.”
Towle appealed that decision last year, but obviously didn't find a more sympathetic bench.
"In addition to its status as 'a highly-interactive vehicle, equipped with high-tech gadgets and weaponry used to aid Batman in fighting crime,'" judge Sandra Ikuta wrote in today's decision, "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."
DC had sought a permanent injunction preventing Towle from producing the Batmobile replicas, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
Each of Towle's replicas sold for as much as $90,000, and took more than a year to construct.