DC Comics wins ultra-geeky legal decision over Batmobile

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Sep 23, 2015, 6:57 PM EDT

Not only did DC Comics win copyright protection over the Batmobile in a courtroom battle that ended today, but the judge who handed down the decision appears to be a world-class geek.

The whole thing started when DC sued California resident Mark Towle in 2011 for building and selling replicas of the 1966 TV Batmobile and the 1989 Tim Burton film version for $90,000 each. Towle argued that his cars were functional objects, not works of art, and also did not look like the Batmobile as visualized in the pages of DC comic books, claiming the publisher had no claim on the screen editions. 

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals wasn't buying it, ruling on Wednesday (Sept. 23) that the Batmobile was a distinctive element of the Batman franchise as a whole, entitling DC to copyright protection over it as part of the "underlying work" on which the TV and movie models were based.

What was notable about the decision, written by Judge Sandra Ikuta, was the author's familiarity with the Batman mythos and especially the history of the Batmobile. Ikuta wrote:

"As Batman so sagely told Robin, 'In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential.' Here, we conclude that the Batmobile character is the property of DC, and Towle infringed upon DC’s property rights when he produced unauthorized derivative works of the Batmobile as it appeared in the 1966 television show and the 1989 motion picture."

Ikuta pointed out that even if the Batmobile's appearance changed to some degree, it was always recognizable as Batman's ride:

"In addition to its status as 'a highly-interactive vehicle, equipped with high-tech gadgets and weaponry used to aid Batman in fighting crime,' the Batmobile is almost always bat-like in appearance, with a bat-themed front end, bat wings extending from the top or back of the car, exaggerated fenders, a curved windshield, and bat emblems on the vehicle. This bat-like appearance has been a consistent theme throughout the comic books, television series, and motion picture, even though the precise nature of the bat-like characteristics have changed from time to time."

Here's more of Ikuta's ruminations on the Caped Crusader's car:

"Equally important, the Batmobile always contains the most up-to-date weaponry and technology. At various points in the comic book, the Batmobile contains a 'hot-line phone...directly to Commissioner Gordon’s office' maintained within the dashboard compartment, a 'special alarm' that foils the Joker’s attempt to steal the Batmobile, and even a complete 'mobile crime lab' within the vehicle."

Seems like we have a real Batman fan on the 9th Circuit, huh? You can read the judge's entire Bat-opinion here if you wish. Meanwhile, Towle should demand his money back from his lawyers -- who really should have known better -- and perhaps start designing his own superhero cars.

(via The Hollywood Reporter)