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The Copyright Battle Over Custom-Built Batmobiles

Hugh Pickens writes (1984118) writes | about 2 years ago

Transportation 3

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Eriq Gardner writes that Warner Brothers is suing California resident Mark Towle, a specialist in customizing replicas of automobiles featured in films and TV shows, for selling replicas of automobiles from the 1960s ABC series Batman by arguing that copyright protection extends to the overall look and feel of the Batmobile. The case hinges on what exactly is a Batmobile — an automobile or a piece of intellectual property? Warner attorney J. Andrew Coombs argues in legal papers that the Batmobile incorporates trademarks with distinctive secondary meaning and that by selling an unauthorized replica, Towle is likely to confuse consumers about whether the cars are DC products are not. Towle's attorney Larry Zerner, argues that automobiles aren't copyrightable. ""It is black letter law that useful articles, such as automobiles, do not qualify as 'sculptural works' and are thus not eligible for copyright protection," writes Zerner adding that a decision to affirm copyright elements of automotive design features could be exploited by automobile manufacturers. "The implications of a ruling upholding this standard are easy to imagine. Ford, Toyota, Ferrari and Honda would start publishing comic books, so that they could protect what, up until now, was unprotectable.""

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derivitive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42456219)

FTFY "Ferrari would start publishing comic"

I don't know how I feel about this... (1)

FuegoFuerte (247200) | about 2 years ago | (#42456267)

If I (or, more likely, some car company from China) started selling a car (let's call it a Zharger) whose exterior exactly matched a 2013 Dodge Charger, but had a 1.7L ChiCom motor with a MTBF of 100 hours and a nasty habit of catching fire while going down the road, it seems like Chrysler ought to be able to bring a trademark infringement suit. After all, the company would be copying a very distinct design, potentially confusing consumers, and damaging the brand image of the Charger (after all, going by a flaming look-alike at 60 mph, people will assume it's a Charger and not a Zharger).

Now, copying a vehicle design from a comic book (versus an actual on-the-road vehicle design) is a little more debatable, I think a more charitable company ought to take it as flattery and be done with it. But, if they really want to be asses, I can sort of see their point... some artist somewhere designed it, and DC Comics published it and made it famous, so I think a reasonable licensing fee might be appropriate. Assuming a replica would be rather expensive, a license fee as high as $1000/unit might even seem reasonable (that's substantially less than a restoration-quality paintjob on a classic car).

That said, I don't think this should fall under copyright, but rather under trademark law. Although superficially similar, they're quite different beasts, and I think DC has a good chance of winning a trademark suit.

Reproducing comic Batmobiles (1)

batwingTM (202524) | about 2 years ago | (#42456901)

Firstly, there are many many batmobiles that have appeared in comcs/cartoons/movies. now, I am a LEGO builder and I have, from time to time reproduced Batmobiles (As I am a Batman fan). A friend of mine recently expressed interest in buying one from me. If the WB suit holds up, that action would also fall afoul would it not?

This would, if successful, lock down entire creative industries, and that cannot be good for anyone.

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