Batmobile ruled to have copyright protection

SAN FRANCISCO • The Batmobile, the indispensable crime fighting vehicle driven by comic book hero Batman, has enough distinct character traits to qualify for copyright protection, a United States appeals court has ruled.

The 9th US Circuit of Appeals on Wednesday affirmed a ruling against a manufacturer of replica Batmobiles.

"As Batman so sagely told Robin, 'In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,'" 9th Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.

Mr Larry Zerner, an attorney for defendant Mark Towle who sells replica Batmobiles for approximately US$90,000 (S$128,331), said he was disappointed with the ruling.

The law specifically states that automobile designs are not subject to copyright, he said. "My client just sells cars," he said. "The car is not a character. The car is a car."

A spokesman for Time Warner unit Warner Brothers, corporate parent of DC Comics, declined to comment.

Mr Towle runs a business called Gotham Garage, where he sells replicas of cars featured in movies and TV shows, according to the ruling.

DC Comics sued him for copyright infringement in 2011 and a lower court judge ruled for DC.

In the 9th Circuit ruling on Wednesday, Justice Ikuta wrote that DC must prove it owns a copyright to the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1966 television series and the 1989 movie starring Michael Keaton. "To the Batmobile!" she wrote.

Batman's vehicle has consistent character traits that can be protected by copyright, she wrote.

"No matter its specific physical appearance, the Batmobile is a 'crime-fighting' car with sleek and powerful characteristics that allow Batman to manoeuvre quickly while he fights villains," she wrote.

Also, there is no dispute that DC created the Batman character and various licences it has entered into over the years did not transfer its underlying property rights, she wrote.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2015, with the headline 'Batmobile ruled to have copyright protection'. Print Edition | Subscribe