It's official - the Batmobile is a real character with one new defensive shield - a ruling by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which has given it copyright protection.
The court's appellate judges said the Batmobile "is a sufficiently distinctive element” of the old Batman TV show and Tim Burton film, and that it’s legally recognized copyright owner's, DC Comics, had not transferred its "underlying rights to the character" when it licensed rights to produce "derivative works".
DC comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros, had been challenged by Temecula mechanic Mark Towle, claiming a 2011 ruling which had seen him sued for selling replicas of Batmobiles from the TV show and film for $90,000 apiece, was not legally binding. He argued that the Batmobile is merely a functional "useful article" rather than an artistic object which could have copyright status.
"As Batman so sagely told Robin, 'In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,' " the court ruled. "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."
Judge Sandra Ikuta said the opinion for the 9th Circuit used legal history as a basis for its decision, citing other characters in entertainment like James Bond and Godzilla. A 2008 court decision also successfully put to the test the theory that "a character may be protectable if it has distinctive character traits and attributes" in regards to the auto character of Eleanor from the movie Gone in 60 Seconds.
"In addition to its status as 'a highly-interactive vehicle, equipped with high-tech gadgets and weaponry used to aid Batman in fighting crime, the Batmobile is almost always bat-like in appearance, with a bat-themed front end, bat wings extending from the top or back of the car, exaggerated fenders, a curved windshield, and bat emblems on the vehicle," Ikuta wrote. "This bat-like appearance has been a consistent theme throughout the comic books, television series, and motion pictures, even though the precise nature of the bat-like characteristics have changed from time to time."
Towle had argued that the Batmobile has not always been black in color nor aerodynamic, nor had its exaggerated front fenders, bat themed gadgets or jet-engine afterburner.
The argument, though, is considered "irrelevant" because even if the mechanic's replica Batmobiles were indirect copies of DC's character, the plaintiff "is entitled to sue for infringement of its underlying work."