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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.
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.
Legal | Eriq Gardner delves into the issues underlying the continuing legal battle over unauthorized replicas of the Batmobile from the 1966 Batman television series and the 1989 film: This summer the Ninth Circuit will consider the appeal of Gotham Garage owner Mark Towle, whose Batmobile replicas were found in February 2013 to violate DC Comics’ copyrights and trademarks. While Towle argues that Batman’s ride is a “useful article,” meaning a utilitarian object not protected by U.S. copyright law, a federal judge ruled the Batmobile is “a copyrightable character.” Gardner notes that if the appeals court sides with DC/Warner Bros., “Hollywood studios would win a powerful weapon to stop products that are similar to props like light sabers and ruby slippers.” [The Hollywood Reporter]
A federal judge on Thursday dealt a crippling blow to a custom carmarker, siding with DC Comics in a ruling that declared the Batmobile isn’t merely an automobile but “a copyrightable character.”
The publisher sued Gotham Garage owner Mark Towle in May 2011, accusing his California-based business of violating its trademarks and copyrights by manufacturing and selling unlicensed replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobile. DC sought a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
However, Towle countered that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles,” defined as objects that have “an intrinsic utilitarian function” — for example, clothing, household appliances or, in this case, automobile functions. He failed to persuade U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew with that argument last year in a motion to dismiss, and he was no more successful this time.
Less than two weeks after the iconic vehicle from the 1966 Batman television series sold at auction for $4.62 million, a custom carmaker was arguing that a federal judge should dismiss DC Comics’ claims that his Batmobile replicas infringe on the company’s trademarks.
The publisher sued Gotham Garage owner Ben Towle in May 2011, accusing his California-based business of manufacturing and selling unlicensed replicas of the 1966 and 1989 Batmobile (the company also offers a recreation of the TV show’s Batboat). DC seeks a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.
While Towle failed to persuade a judge in February 2012 that the complaint should be thrown out on the grounds that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles,” Law360 reports on Wednesday his attorney took a different approach, arguing that DC waited too long to assert its rights.
Legal | Both Warner Bros. and automobile customizer Mark Towle have filed for summary judgment in the studio’s 2011 copyright-infringement lawsuit against Towle, whose Gotham Garage sold several replicas of the Batmobile. Warner, the parent company of DC Comics, claims the design of the Batmobile is its intellectual property, while Towle argues that copyright law does not regard a “useful object,” such as a car, as a sculptural work and therefore the design can’t be copyrighted. [The Hollywood Reporter]
Crime | Police in Lincoln, Nebraska, are investigating the theft of 600 X-Men comics, dating back to the 1970s, from the communal storage area of an apartment building. [Journal Star]
Legal | A judge refused to dismiss DC Comics’ lawsuit against Gotham Garage, a manufacturer of custom-made Batmobiles, ruling that the design of Batman’s vehicle is indeed copyrightable. DC sued the California company in May for copyright and trademark infringement, claiming Gotham Garage is confusing the public into thinking the cars are authorized products. The manufacturer asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the U.S. Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles.” The judge disagreed, ruling that Gotham Garage “ignores the exception to the ‘useful article’ rule, which grants copyright protection to nonfunctional, artistic elements of an automobile design that can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile.” [The Hollywood Reporter]
Legal | Nancy Hass provides a broad overview of the legal battle at Archie Comics that pits Co-CEOs Jon Goldwater and Nancy Silberkleit against each other for control of the 73-year-old company. Silberkleit, who spoke briefly to Hass before a New York judge issued a temporary restraining order last month, called claims that she’s threatened and harassed the publisher’s employees and vendors “completely untrue.” [The Daily Beast]
DC Comics has sued a California manufacturer of replica vehicles, accusing him of infringing on the company’s copyrights and trademarks by selling custom-made Batmobiles.
Hollywood, Esq., reports that DC filed the lawsuit last week in federal court against Mark Towles, whose business Gotham Garage specializes in the creation and sale of television and movie replica vehicles, from the 1989 movie Batmobile to the 1966 TV Batmobile and Batboat to Speed Racer’s Mach 5. Presumably none of those replicas is licensed, as the indicia on Towles’ website states that “Neither Gotham Garage nor Mark Towle are directly affiliated with Warner Brothers Inc., DC Comics., 20th Century Fox Inc., Walt Disney Inc., nor The Munsters Official Organizations.”
The publisher accuses Towles of copyright and trademark infringement, trademark counterfeiting and unfair competition, and seeks a permanent injunction, the destruction of all infringing products and damages of no less than $750,000 for each infringement.