Holy lawsuit, Batman! US court affirms Batmobile's copyright

Batmobile In The 1989 Movie Batman from the Collection of G&B Comics.
Batmobile In The 1989 Movie Batman from the Collection of G&B Comics. PHOTO: SINGAPORE PHILATELIC MUSEUM

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - 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.

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

The law specifically states that automobile designs are not subject to copyright, he said.

"My client just sells cars," Zerner 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.

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, Ikuta wrote that DC must prove it owns a copyright in 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, Ikuta 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.

Additionally, 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, Ikuta wrote.

The case in the 9th Circuit is DC Comics vs. Towle, 13-55484.