Holy, look-alike cars and copyright, Bat fans: a U.S. District Court in Pomona has in DC Comics v. Mark Towle batted away an attempt to derail a publisher’s lawsuit against the creator of replica kits for the Batmobile, the vehicle legend in comics, television shows and the movies. And there’s a twist in this not-so-comic case that a lawyer has blogged may raise some eyebrows among automakers and car fanciers.
Although, as with many claims involving copyrights, the claims against the defendant largely revolve around money and damages, the opinion issued by U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew opens an interesting aspect of this area of law. Lew ruled that DC Comics’ claim against the defendant “alleged sufficient facts for a ‘reasonable inference’ that there may be nonfunctional artistic elements of the Batmobile that may possibly be separated form the utilitarian aspects of the automobile.'”
His decision suggests the Batmobile’s design could be viewed as an independent aspect for protection, separate from the useful, utilitarian attributes of the car itself.
Copyright law has long held that a work possessing functional, utilitarian, aspects is deemed to be a “useful article” and is precluded from Copyright law protection. Exceptions though have been carved out specifically involving separately identifiable features that are capable of existing independently as a work of art. Fabrica Inc. v. El Dorado Corp., 697 F.2d 890, 893 (9th Cir.1983).