Friday, October 16, 2015

Batmobile gets Copyright Protection

Since 1939, Batman has been featured in numerous publications by DC Comics, as well as in feature films and television shows. Since 1941, many of the comic books, films, and other works featuring Batman also depict his vehicle, the Batmobile. As a US Appeals Court observed, it is an indispensable crime fighting vehicle driven by the hero Batman and has sufficient character traits to qualify for a copyright protection.

The infringement case was between Mark Towle, owner of Gotham Garage, who makes replicas of the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1960s live action television show and its 1989 appearance in the “Batman” movie.  The replicas sell for approximately 90,000 US dollars each. DC Comics sued Mark Towle in 2011, claiming rights in those versions of the Batmobile, even though the Batman comics published by DC did not feature Batmobile designs that looked like the Batmobile in the movies and/or on the TV show.

To determine whether characters in comic books, television shows or movies are entitled to such protection, courts conduct a three-part test. First, the character must have “physical as well as conceptual qualities.” It also has to be “sufficiently delineated” so people recognize it as the same character across time. And third, the character has to be “especially distinctive.” The Batmobile passed the test and the court ruled that a character could be protectable based on distinctive and consistent character traits “even if the character does not maintain the same physical appearance in every context.”

“To the Batmobile!”

- Nayanika Singhal