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“To the Batmobile!” was one of Batman’s catch phrases during his campy 1960s television series, but it’s also a quote from a recent ruling handed down by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
There’s a reason for that.
The ruling decided whether custom car maker Mark Towle had infringed on DC Comics’ copyright by making nearly $200,000 off of replica Batmobiles he built. The litigation started back in 2011, when the publisher of Batman and Superman went after Towle, whose Gotham Garage business specializes in Batmobiles that resemble the rides seen in the TV series and the 1989 film.
Towle appealed the court’s original ruling that he had indeed infringed on DC’s copyright, arguing that since his replica cars didn’t look like the ones featured in the comic books that he was within his rights. He also claimed that the look of a car cannot fall under copyright protection since it is not a work of art.
Ultimately, the Ninth Circuit Court didn’t buy it and sided with DC, with Judge Sandra S. Ikuta writing in her opinion:
“As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential.’ Batman: The Penguin Goes Straight, (Greenway Productions television broadcast March 23, 1966). 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.”