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Supreme Court asked to consider Batmobile copyright case

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A manufacturer of unlicensed Batmobile replicas has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to determine whether Batman’s signature vehicle is indeed protected by copyright.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mark Towle of Gotham Garage filed a writ of certiorari today asking the justices to review his nearly five-year-old dispute with DC Comics.

Towle, who produced replicas of  the 1966 and 1989 Batmobiles that sold for as much as $90,000 each, was sued in 2011 by DC, which claimed copyright and trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting and unfair competition. 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, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals wasn’t any more sympathetic to his cause, finding in September that, “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.”

In his petition to the Supreme Court, Towle insists that the U.S. Copyright Office states outright that automobiles aren’t copyrightable, and that the Ninth Circuit simply created an arbitrary exception. He also argues that there have been “dozens” of Batmobiles in DC comic books over the decades that “vary dramatically in appearance and style” — so much so that the vehicle doesn’t have the “consistent, widely-identifiable, physical attributes” required to be considered a “character.”

The odds of the justices taking up Towle’s case are pretty low: As we noted previously in the legal battle between Marvel and Jack Kirby’s heirs, the Supreme Court accepts only 100 to 150 out of the more than 7,000 cases that it’s asked to review each year.

Comments

17 Comments

I wonder how many of those cars he would have managed to sell if they DIDN’T look astonishingly like something any Batman fan of any degree of fervor would not go “Hey, it’s the Batmobile!”

Pay the fines, bozo, and next time get a licensing agreement to peddle licensed wares.

If the copyright law states clearly that automobiles cannot be copyrighted then this should’ve been an open and shut case – screw you WB/DC, the law states that even though the Batmobile is very unique it is an automobile thus a big ‘screw you’.

The Batmobiles are a product. They were designed for a specific character and used in a product owned by Warner Bros. and protected not just by copyright but as a specific trademark. Open and shut.

That is exactly what copyright law states. automobile are not copyrigtable since they are a useful article. This is not a nation wide ruling either. The Towle ruling was in a 9th district court. So the BATMOBILE is now copyrightable in the 9th district. If WB/DC suit someone else in another district the ruling might not be the same. If the US Supreme Court came to the same conclusion then it would be nation wide.

Cool Dude, you don’t know what you’re talking about:
it’s not the “9th district”, It’s the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit , a nationwide governing boy that handles
Contract Real Property Torts – Injury Torts – Property Civil Rights Prisoner Petitions Forfeiture / Penalty Labor Bankruptcy, Intellectual Property ,Social Security, and Federal Tax Suits. Also there seems to be some misunderstanding here by a few of you about what is covered in terms of copyright when it comes to automobiles. The Copyright office only ruled that car owners can customize their personal vehicles, including software. You can’t copy another vehicle and sell multiple copies of it, because while you can’t copyright a car, you can patent the actual vehicle and trademark both the name “Batmobile”, the symbols and then copyright the television shows and movies it’s been used in. This guy has ZERO standing.

Patent expired in 1980 on the 1966 batmobile.

I agree totally with you on the trademark name and logos. Which WB/DC did not own until 2012 and this case started in 2011. Towle admitted to trademark infringement. So that’s a done deal. I’m only talking about copyrighting a vehicle. I will agree anything not on the patent should be covered. The exterior of the car design was patented until 1980. The batmobile from 1966 was mostly a 1955 futura with very little exterior modification.

…A Batmobile by any other name is still the Batmobile! Ask ANY kid who’s car that is and see what they say…

Did DC get the legal rights from FORD in the sixties when they had George Barris modify the Lincoln Futura for the BATMAN tv series?

They surely “profited” from the (re)use of the car back then…

Just wondering.

The court NEEDS to hear this! There are so many examples of this and the one that comes to mind is a small car company that makes the Eleanor car from Gone in 60 Seconds

“Patent expired in 1980 on the 1966 batmobile.” The trademark was renewed in 2013. Also, in doing my research, DC can in fact fil a copyright for the distinctive paint job and bat emblems in the 1966 Batmobiles. Again, he got away with it because the rights to the TV show were in contention until Warner Bros. got them back. Now he doesn’t have a claim to the car.

Barris bought the rights from Ford for $1.00. Warner’s bought the rights from 20th Century Fox. “Including merchandising rights to the Batmobile. He says when Barris was commissioned to create the 1966 Batmobile, it was “based on the evolution of the Batmobile Vehicles over the course of the comics.” Additionally, certain specifications were outlined in an agreement between various parties, including Barris and Twentieth Century Fox Television, about what was “required to be included in the construction of the 1966 Batmobile.” According to Jay Kogan, DC’s vice president and deputy general counsel for intellectual property

DC filed for the trademark name in 2010, they could not get the name without proof of use in commerce. They had to wait until the first official 1966 batmobile was completed to prove use. The filed 2 extensions before the first car was completed and the trademark name was issued in the automotive field. You really need to google search the 9th circuit federal court of appeals. They are not the deciding factor for the entire United States only their jusidiction. Another curcuit court could reach an entirely different conclusion if the same type of case was presented in a different curcuit court. The only ruling nation wide would be a US Supreme Court ruling. If this case goes to the US Supreme Court and gets ruled the same way then and only then would the ruling stand nation wide.

Copy & Paste from Blacks law dictionary. Frequently, situations will come up where one circuit court panel rules differently from another panel in another circuit on the same issue. Federal judges will generally rule the way that a previous court ruled on the same issue, following a doctrine known as stare decisis glossary for ‘stare decisis’, a Latin term meaning “to stand by a decision”. However, the judges in one circuit are not bound by rulings in another circuit. While an opinion written by a circuit court may be helpful or instructive, judges in a different circuit may choose to adopt a different approach in it opinion.,

No comment Ben? So who doesn’t know what their talking about?

I think Cool Dude owned mr not so smarty pants Ben!!

DC spent over 1 million dollars on the Towle lawsuit, they make $17,000 per licensed car on a 10 car contract. How is that profitable?

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