A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that Warner Bros. Entertainment’s DC Comics Inc. owns the copyright to the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1960s television show and 1989 film.
DC Comics, in Burbank, filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in 2011 against vehicle customizer Mark Towle who had been making his own versions of the Caped Crusader’s car through his business Gotham Garage. He sold the cars to collectors and also sold kits so others could customize their vehicles into the Batmobile.
In a 30-page opinion authored by Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Sandra Ikuta, the court rejected arguments by Towle that the Batmobile had no copyright protection. The ruling upholds a 2013 decision by the district court.
The court used case law stemming from the film “Gone in 60 Seconds” to conclude an automobile character did have copyright protection and that the Batmobile passed a three-prong test of possessing physical qualities having appeared not just on comic book pages but also on TV and film; being recognizable as the same character each time it appears in any medium; and being distinctive in appearance with unique elements of expression.
“DC therefore owns the copyright in the Batmobile character, as expressed in the 1966 and 1989 productions, at least to the extent these productions drew on DC’s underlying work,” the court concluded.