Batmobile Ruled a Protectable Character by United States Court of Appeals

Batman's iconic signature vehicle, the "Batmobile," has been ruled as a protected character and property of DC Comics by the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. This ruling stems from a 2011 lawsuit brought by DC against Mark Towle, a man who built and sold replicas of both the Adam West and Michael Keaton era Batmobiles.

The ruling was made in reference to the vehicle's consistent characteristics throughout its lengthy history, despite notable changes in appearance over time. The presiding Judge Ikuta declared that The Batmobile has "sufficiently distinctive" characteristics that tie it to the batman intellectual property. While the United States Copyright Act does not distinctly say that comic book characters are protected, protection is granted for any character that has consistently identifiable traits throughout each iteration.

Judge Ikuta boiled down the qualifying factors for copyright protection into three requirements:

  1. The disputed character needs to have physical and conceptual qualities.
  2. It must be identifiable as the same character between multiple iterations, regardless of visual appearance.
  3. The character needs to be distinctive with some unique elements.

This decision is similar to the 2008 case Halicki Films LLC v. Sanderson Sales & Mktg., in which the copyright for the car "Eleanor" from Gone in 60 Seconds was deemed to be protected by copyright law. James Bond, Batman, and Godzilla have all been deemed to be protected characters despite their wide-ranging appearances over time, further supporting this ruling. This update is taken from an article by Peter Henein of Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP. For the full article, click here.

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