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Denying Motion to Dismiss, Court Finds That the Batmobile Is Not, as a Matter of Law, Excluded From Copyright Protection

Monday, February 6, 2012
Laura McQuade | Bloomberg Law DC Comics v. Towle, No. 11-CV-03934, 2012 BL 23653 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 26, 2012) 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. DisclaimerThis document and any discussions set forth herein are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice, which has to be addressed to particular facts and circumstances involved in any given situation. Review or use of the document and any discussions does not create an attorney-client relationship with the author or publisher. To the extent that this document may contain suggested provisions, they will require modification to suit a particular transaction, jurisdiction or situation. Please consult with an attorney with the appropriate level of experience if you have any questions. Any tax information contained in the document or discussions is not intended to be used, and cannot be used, for purposes of avoiding penalties imposed under the United States Internal Revenue Code. Any opinions expressed are those of the author. The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. and its affiliated entities do not take responsibility for the content in this document or discussions and do not make any representation or warranty as to their completeness or accuracy.©2014 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All rights reserved. Bloomberg Law Reports ® is a registered trademark and service mark of The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.

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