Denying Motion to Dismiss, Court Finds That the Batmobile Is Not, as a Matter of Law, Excluded From Copyright Protection
Laura McQuade | Bloomberg Law
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California denied defendant’s motion to dismiss DC Comics’s copyright infringement claim alleging that defendant’s creation of “Batmobile” replica cars infringed its copyrights. Rejecting defendant’s argument that the Batmobile was merely a noncopyrightable useful article, the court found that “the Batmobile and all of its relevant embodiments are not, as a matter of law, excluded from copyright protection.” DC Comics at 5.
DC Comics Sues Gotham Garage over Its Use of the Copyrighted Batmobile Design
DC Comic’s owns and licenses the copyright to numerous comic book characters and related works, including the Batman character and his vehicle, the Batmobile. Defendant Mark Towle operates the Gotham Garage, which allegedly “creates custom cars related to various television shows, movies and other fanciful and copyrighted works,” including DC Comics’s Batmobile. DC Comics v. Towle, No. 11-CV-03934, Complaint (May 6, 2011). Gotham allegedly builds the replicas and also sells vehicle modification kits comprised of assorted parts and accessories for others to create the replica cars. DC Comics brought an action for copyright infringement against Towle and he moved to dismiss the copyright infringement claim.
The Batmobile Is Not Excluded from Copyright Protection
The court first determined that DC Comics adequately plead a copyright infringement claim. Towle argued that, despite the pleadings, the court should dismiss the copyright infringement claim because the Batmobile and all of its variations are not copyrightable as a matter of law. The court rejected this argument, explaining that while the Copyright Act generally does not protect “useful articles,” such as automobiles, which have an intrinsic, utilitarian function, there is an exception to this rule. Specifically, the “non-functional, artistic elements of an automobile design that can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile” are protected. DC Comics at 5. Based on the facts alleged in the complaint, the court inferred that “there may be non-functional artistic elements of the Batmobile that may possibly be separated from the utilitarian aspect of the automobile.” Id. The court thus held that the Batmobile is not, as a matter of law, excluded from copyright protection.
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