The Batmobile. Whether you’re talking the 1960s Adam West awesomeness, the Tim Burton’s sleek design, or the Dark Knights Tumblr, it’s one of the most recognizable vehicles on the planet. And, until now, you too could feel like the caped crusader by buying or building your own version of the classic vehicle.
Many fans who wanted their own Batmobile had been going to “Gotham Garage”, a custom car shop owned by Mark Towles that specialized in building imitation Batmobiles. Then, last year DC Comics sued Towles claiming that the design of the Batmobile was protected under copyright.
Now normally cars aren’t protected by copyright law. But U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew has declared that they can be if it’s a very special automobile design… and the Batmobile is definitely that. Upon the ruling, Towles attempted to dismiss the case, claiming that copyright law does not protect items known as “useful articles” (i.e. cars, homes, etc). But Judge Lew disagrees based on the idea that the “nonfunctional, artistic elements of an automobile design can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile”. That means that, in the case of the Batmobile any of the vehicle’s elements that aren’t functional (the fake jet engine, the design of the car’s outer body, the bat-hubcaps) can be protected by copyright.
While this ruling prohibits Towles, and anyone else, from creating unauthorized Batmobile replicas, what exactly it means for the many Batmobile replicas already out there remains to be seen. Batmobiles can be found at car shows around the world, publicity events, in devoted fans’ garages, and even being driven around by celebrities like Justin Beiber (who was recently pulled over for speeding in his Batmobile). Does this ruling mean that those versions are in violation of copyright and must be destroyed… or at least altered enough so that they are no longer considered a “Batmobile”?
I guess we’ll find out soon. The Gotham Garage website is currently being redone, but the Batmobile is notably absent from their list of custom vehicles now.