If You Build a Batmobile, You’ll Go to Jail. It’s the Law
Well, maybe you won’t go to jail, but you’ll pay a hefty fine. That was the decision handed down by U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Lew in the case of DC Comics vs. Mark Towle.
Towle runs Gotham Garage, a custom car shop in California where he makes replicas of famous cars from TV and movies. Warner Bros., owner of DC Comics and producers of TV and movies that include a certain famous car, the Batmobile, were not happy that Towle was profiting from building and selling his own versions of their intellectual property. So rather than asking for help from a caped crusader, they sought justice from the courts. And got it.
According to io9 the reason Warner Bros. won, and opened the door for possible suits against other replica car builders, is Judge Lew ruled that the Batmobile is not just an ordinary car, but is itself an actual fictional character in the Batman franchise. And is thereby subject to copyright. By building copies, the Judge ruled, Towle infringed on DC’s copyright to that character. It would be the same as if Towle had drawn a hero in a black bat suit, with a utility belt stocked with really cool weapons, who lived in a bat cave under his mansion, called him “Batguy” and then sold comic books.
In his decision, Judge Lew also cited the discussion in a previous case—where the defendants were creating replicas of “Eleanor,” a classic Mustang and the object of Nicholas Cage’s obsession in ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ —that asked whether or not a non-sentient vehicle (as opposed to a sentient vehicle, like a Transformer??), could be considered a character in a story.
The Eleanor case wasn’t resolved, but in Judge Lew’s opinion the Batmobile is unique enough, and important enough to the stories, that it fulfilled the requirements of a copyrightable character. He also said that if it hadn’t, it would still be protected under copyright laws as a “pictorial, graphic, and sculptural work.”
So the real question is: How long before the Batmobile gets an agent, an oxy habit, and starts dating lingerie models?