PASADENA, Calif. (CN) – Fully functional, replica Batmobiles infringe on DC Comics’ copyright of the caped crusader’s automotive sidekick, the Ninth Circuit ruled Wednesday.
“Holy copyright law, Batman!” the 28-page opinion begins, affirming summary judgment against Mark Towle and his business, Gotham Garage.
Towle produces replicas of Batman’s Batmobile, as depicted in the 1966 television show and the 1989 film, and sells them to collectors. For thriftier fans, Towle also sells kits to make existing cars look more Batmobile-esque.
“Towle concedes that these replicas copy the designs of the Batmobile as depicted on television and in the motion picture, though they do not copy every feature,” Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote for a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court.
DC Comics holds the rights to the Batman character and stories, but Towle contended that it does not have standing to sue over replicas from derivative works.
The entrepreneur noted that DC Comics licensed the Batman character to two separate studios that designed their own Batmobiles for the television series and film. These new designs do not qualify as DC’s property.
Ikuta and her colleagues found Wednesday, however, that the Batmobile qualifies as a comic book character, consisting of “physical and conceptual qualities” that make it recognizable and distinct in any iteration of its features.
“No matter its specific physical appearance, the Batmobile is a ‘crime-fighting’ car with sleek and powerful characteristics that allow Batman to maneuver quickly while he fights villains,” she wrote.
Case law establishes that the original holder of a copyright is entitled to sue based on infringement of derivative works, Ikuta added.
Towle also failed to support his claim that DC Comics waited too long to sue.
Since Towle was found to have “willfully infringed” on a copyright, Ikuta said he cannot base his defense on the doctrine of laches, which penalizes inexcusable delays in filing suit.
“As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,'” the opinion concludes . “Here, we conclude that the Batmobile character is the property of DC, and Towle infringed upon DC’s property rights.”
The ruling includes two appendices depicting the Batmobile from the 1989 movie and the 1996 TV series, alongside photos of Towle’s replicas.
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