Holy Copyright Infringement, Batman!

In a decision that takes longer to sort out than Christopher Nolan’s entire Dark Knight trilogy, District Court Judge, Ronald Lew, has found in favor of the Caped Crusader.

DC Comics sued Mark Towle, whose California based company, Gotham Garage, builds custom replicas of famous cars from film and TV. Towle’s attorney, Larry Zerner, argued that his client’s replicas of the Batmobile are simply automobiles and should be protected under the “useful articles” provisions of U.S. copyright law.

“The implications of a ruling upholding this standard are easy to imagine,” wrote Zerner. “Ford, Toyota, Ferrari and Honda would start publishing comic books so that they could protect what, up until now, was unprotectable.”

Judge Lew did not agree.

“The Batmobile is a character and exists in both two-and three-dimensional forms,” Lew wrote in his decision. “Its existence in three-dimensional form is the consequence of the Batmobile’s portrayal in the 1989 live-motion film and 1966 television series.”

“Defendant did not copy the design of a mere car; he copied the Batmobile character. The fact that the unauthorized Batmobile replicas that Defendant manufactured — which are derivative works — may be ‘useful articles’ is irrelevant. A derivative work can still infringe the underlying copyrighted work even if the derivative work is not independently entitled to copyright protection.”

In other words, you didn’t just build a car, you built a full-scale, fully-functional (copyrighted and trademarked) comic book character.

Mr. Towle may want to consider throwing a tarp over that working replica of the Optimus Prime tractor-trailer before DreamWorks sends over a fleet of guys in pinstripe suits…

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