Does Warner Bros. Own the Batmobile? (Analysis)

March 6, 2014Article
The Hollywood Reporter

On Feb. 5, 2015, the Batmobile will roll into a federal appeals court with James Bond, Godzilla and Freddy Krueger along for the ride.

The 9th Circuit is poised to consider whether Batman's car is a "character" protectable under copyright law. Arguing against that idea is Mark Towle, a Temecula, Calif., mechanic who in 2011 was sued by Warner Bros.' DC Comics for selling replicas of Batmobiles from the 1960s TV show and 1989 film. Towle is appealing a ruling that says he is liable for infringement. He argues that the Batmobile is merely functional -- a "useful article," legal-speak for a utilitarian rather than artistic object.

Some lawyers say a ruling for DC would clarify what studios can own. "We need to get over the idea that cars can't be characters," says Aaron Moss, an attorney who has done work for the Godzilla property. "KITT is arguably more delineated than DavidHasselhoff's character in Knight Rider. If Towle is able to establish that DC has no protectable rights in the Batmobile, you should quit your job and start selling replicas of the General Lee and a decked-out DeLorean time machine."

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