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Supreme Court won’t hear Batmobile copyright dispute

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The U.S. Supreme Court this morning declined to review a ruling that the Batmobile isn’t merely an automobile, but rather distinctive enough to warrant copyright protection.

Mark Towle, who previously created unlicensed replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobiles, petitioned the high court in January to consider his five-year-old dispute with DC Comics. The company had sued Towle in 2011, claiming his Gotham Garage violated its trademarks and copyrights by manufacturing the replicas, which he sold for about $90,000 each.

Towle 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.

Brush Up On Your Bat-History With CBR’s Batmobile Infographics

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, 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 high court, Towle insisted 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 argued 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.”

(via The Hollywood Reporter)

Comments

15 Comments

If other characters drove the Batmobile, he might have had a case worth fighting for, as the Batmobile is always associated with Batman He could design a Bat-like vehicle, but not call it the Batmobile and probably would have been all right. Once it’s associated with Batman all bets are off.

As a reminder, this is not the end for 1966 Batmobile replicas. 1966 Batmobile fans can get a 1966 Batmobile replica through DC Comics licensed company, Fiberglass Freaks. http://www.fiberglassfreaks.com

Just a warming to anyone thinking of doing business with Mark Towle. Do your research and find out the number of Law Suits this character has gotten himself into for not delivering product. DC Comics likely went after this guy for shady business practices as much as what he was building. It remains to be seen if any other honest Batmobile Replica Builders will be sued. Go with Mark Racop of Fiberglass Freaks if you want a replica. He’s the best and proven over the years not to be honest.

I meant Mark Racop has proven over the years to BE Honest. That was a Typo.

Not the place to promote your business. That is in extremely bad taste. IMO

This isn’t the only time this happened. Ferrari successfully sued the manufacturer that was making replicas of It’s Daytona 356 Spyder using a Corvette chassis. It was used in the Miami Vice TV series. Ferrari was nice enough to give the series a real Ferrari after the case closed.

Funny how everyone knows the law but no one bothers to look it up. It’s a good thing it didn’t go to the Supreme Court. Let’s say he lost again on the Supreme Court level. That ruling would be nation wide. As it stands now it is limited to the 9th circuit. I’m not saying DC won’t file lawsuits in other districts but the ruling in those districts might not be the same. Here’s are my findings on the subject available in any law dictionary….. District Courts in the US are courts of general jurisdiction; they do not usually issue “rulings” that are binding in any way on other courts, Circuit Court is binding authority only within the jurisdiction of that Circuit;

DC/Time Warner will just play it out until this guy doesn’t have anymore money. Besides, this falls under intellectual property – intellectual property rights (IPR) are trademarks, copyright, patents, industrial design rights, and in some jurisdictions trade secrets: all these cover music, literature, and other artistic works; discoveries and inventions; and words, phrases, symbols, and designs. This guy isn’t going to win.

Around the same time of this case; DC Comics sued DC shoes over a logo design. DC Comics actually lost because it was found out the logo design that DC shoes had was actually trademarked first. DC lost and had to pay DC shoes. LOL

Trademarks can make a huge difference. Aa long as they are in the proper classification codes. Some people don’t understand you can have the same logo or whatever trademarked in different classification codes. Like the DC logo I’m sure they had a trademark too, but maybe not in the class code for shoes. Trademarks are published for opposition on the USPTO website before they are used so DC had their chance to oppose it.

I’m going by memory here but I remember reading that DC Comics actually started using the redesigned logo BEFORE submitting a trademark. I guess they thought they could get away with using a TM instead of an R. This was the problem because DC Shoes already had an R (registered) logo.

Marvel still uses the TM. I guess they had used it for so long that it doesn’t matter anymore and no one in they’re right mind would start a new comic book company called Marvel.

They would have to start using the mark before it was trademarked to prove use in commerce. But they should have been watching the USOTO publications. I guess they didn’t. Like the name batmobile they didn’t own until 2012 when they could prove use in the automotive field. They had to license some one and produce a car before the trademark name could be issued.

This article doesn’t mention anything about DC having licensed Fiberglass Freaks. Someone could get the impression that their dream of buying one of these magnificent cars is over. Invariably, someone will ask, why doesn’t DC license someone? The answer is that DC Comics *has* licensed someone. Their dreams are not crushed by this news. There *is* a licensed company that is legally allowed to sell 1966 Batmobile replicas, and that company is Fiberglass Freaks. If answering the unasked questions of fans whose dreams were crushed seems to be in bad taste, so be it. My job is to fulfill those dreams. Thank you for your time.

@ Mark…this article is NOT about you or your company but I’m sure the majority of the people wanting one will do a search and find you.

See what I mean? Unbelievable, Every article about this lawsuit is not the place to promote your business. IMO that makes you look desperate for business. Surely that is not the opinion you want people to perceive.

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

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