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The Courts Entertainment

Court Rules Batmobile Is Entitled To Copyright Protection 138

schwit1 writes: The Batmobile's bat-like appearance and other distinct attributes, including its high-tech weaponry, make it a character that can't be replicated without permission from DC Comics, the copyright holder, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said. "As Batman so sagely told Robin, 'In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,' " states the opinion. "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."
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Court Rules Batmobile Is Entitled To Copyright Protection

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It goes without saying that stuff like this should be copyrighted because it's essentially "fanart" that is being sold. You just can't do that.

    Though this makes me wonder about Time Machine-modified Delorean's and Ecto-1's

    • Ecto-1 especially. It's just a paint-job on an old Cadillac ambulance, with a bunch of crap on the roof. Is the crap on the roof copyrightable? I guess the "No Ghosts" logo is.
      • Ecto-1 is totally copyrightable...

        If you see it, it is clear and obvious what it is...

        The time machine version of the DMC-12 is the same thing, it is clear and obvious what it is...

    • It goes without saying that stuff like this should be copyrighted because it's essentially "fanart" that is being sold. You just can't do that.

      Though this makes me wonder about Time Machine-modified Delorean's and Ecto-1's

      There goes cosplay.

      • It goes without saying that stuff like this should be copyrighted because it's essentially "fanart" that is being sold. You just can't do that. Though this makes me wonder about Time Machine-modified Delorean's and Ecto-1's

        There goes cosplay.

        I'm not so sure about that. I think Marvel & DC are smart enough to realize that killing Cosplay would really harm their industries. Of course, the problem you have with Marvel is their parent company, who is known for it's ridiculous commitment to protecting it's "property".

      • by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @10:04AM (#50596535)

        There goes cosplay.

        No, you're allowed to make your own costume for your own private use.

        That is "fair use".

        What you aren't allowed to do is make 50,000 of them and sell them. That requires permission.

        • by C0R1D4N ( 970153 )
          Maybe, but I really don't see Warner getting into the custom automobile industry. They should have just settled to offer the guy a fairly priced license.
          • Maybe, but I really don't see Warner getting into the custom automobile industry. They should have just settled to offer the guy a fairly priced license.

            Perhaps they did and he turned them down, thinking he didn't have to pay them a cent.

          • by Mage66 ( 732291 )
            DC has already sold an exclusive license to another firm, Fiberglass Freaks.
        • That's not fair use because you can use it for profit like the times square people or blogging etc. Then there's issues of it negatively affecting your brand, like if crazy Elmo decides to start attacking tourists.

          • "because you can use it for profit" should be "when you use it for profit".

            • If I build a batmobile for myself and get bored of it, is it for profit if I sell it? What about in a bankruptcy or estate sale?

              I'm just playing devil's advocate... I think the entire system is absurd.

              • Then it becomes about your "intent"...

                If you made it with the intent of distribution, then you're outside of fair use. If you made it for personal use, word it or drove it for 5 years, then sold it when bored, that could be defended under fair use.

          • Just because something can be used for profit doesn't mean it will be.

            I can make a Superman costume at home tomorrow and wear it to a private party for fun, I'm not breaking any laws.

            If I make 50 of them and bring them for everyone to have one, then I have.

        • by sootman ( 158191 )

          What if someone wants one but doesn't know how to make one, but I do? Can I help them? Can I be paid to help them? Where do you draw the line?

          It seems to me (which means I am probably 100% wrong) that he could quit making them first and selling them, and instead he could switch to I-will-make-you-one-upon-request. Or "help" people make them, and as long as the buyer does a certain amount, it's all OK. Or do what he's been doing, but deliver it in pink, and it's up to the new owner to paint it a different co

          • All fair points...

            It is worth remembering that it is one thing to be right, yet another to pay a lawyer to prove that you're right in a court of law...

            Yes, there is some point where it becomes a derivative work, however if you're just attempting to skirt around the edges of the law, I can tell you the courts take a VERY dim view of "game playing" when it comes to the law.

            If you should know better, then you should know better.

            Judges do not generally have a sense of humor, and such arguments are often not ver

  • Private property? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:42AM (#50595687)

    Just as copyright infringement is not theft; Intellectual property is not property. Intellectual property is merely a legal privilege, a set of rules that allows some people to restrict others in the free use of their own, true property. If anything, Batman's "sage words" defend the copier.

    • Right, the copier is prevented, with violent force if necessary, from doing what he wants with his *real* property, in sacrifice to the chase of possible profits derived from fictional propery rights.

      But we expect judges to contort themselves to uphold laws, not to apply reason and philosophy to matters before them. Just don't look for any justice there and you won't find any surprises.

    • by gnupun ( 752725 )

      Intellectual property is not property.

      Without IP, your car would be a heap of raw materials like steel, plastic, rubber, leather etc. These raw materials are cheap and constitute a tiny fraction of the retail price of the car. You're paying for IP and the processing of these raw materials.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 25, 2015 @08:42AM (#50595947)

        And without significant limits on "intellectual property" nothing would be made out of fear that some distant relative of some inventor from the 15th century could come in and sue your company into the ground. There is a very good reason why the founders put "To promote the progress of science and useful arts" and "limited times" into the constitution regarding copyrights/patents. Society GRANTS artists and inventors the rights to hold a monopoly over something they create for a LIMITED TIME with the purposes of encouraging them and others to create more, not to grind society to a halt while high priced lawyers dig through centuries of minutia trying to figure out who "owns" an idea.

        • Society GRANTS artists and inventors the rights to hold a monopoly over something they create for a LIMITED TIME with the purposes of encouraging them and others to create more

          Then Congress has about nine more years to prove that it will uphold its end of the bargain. If 2024 arrives and Congress hasn't passed another bullshit "harmonization" bill, we'll know that the copyright term is limited enough to let the Mickey trilogy, the Pooh books, and "Rhapsody in Blue" enter the public domain.

          • Keep in mind that the early Mickey works may well enter the public domain, but that doesn't mean anyone can make a Mickey Cartoon.

            It only means that someone can copy the old Mickey Cartoons.

            Mickey is trademarked, the image and brand of the mouse is clearly property of the Walt Disney Company and will remain so as long as they exist.

            • Mickey is trademarked

              A trademark cannot be used to extend the term of the exclusive rights under an expired U.S. copyright. Dastar v. Fox [wikipedia.org]. Under current law, as of 2024, this will include the right to prepare, reproduce, and distribute derivative works of the books When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six, and The House at Pooh Corner, as well as the short films Plane Crazy, The Gallopin' Gaucho, and Steamboat Willie. And in 2025, it will include the revised version of Plane Crazy. So expect a shot for shot re

              • I don't doubt that you will be able to do remakes... of those old films...

                But you won't be able to make brand new works... For example, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is a "new work". You couldn't make new episodes of that just because Steamboat Willie goes into the public domain.

                The "Mouse" is so clearly Disney that it is as bullet proof as it gets.

                And if by any slim chance someone comes up with a way around it, it won't last 10 seconds before Congress fixes that.

                • You won't be able to make your own Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episodes because Toodles and other post-1929 elements are still copyrighted. But you'll still be able to make your own Mickey works that use only the elements set forth in the trilogy and original elements. See, for example, the copyright case allowing commercial publication of Sherlock Holmes fan fiction [latimes.com] despite that Arthur Conan Doyle's last ten stories were still copyrighted.

                  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's estate is not one of the largest corporations in the US.

                    I didn't say it was right or wrong, I said that you will never be allowed to make a Mickey cartoon as long as the Walt Disney Company is around.

                    Otherwise Dreamworks could come out with a feature length Mickey Mouse movie in 2025, and there is zero chance that will happen.

                    Again, I'm not telling you my feelings, I'm telling you what is. :)

                    • by tepples ( 727027 )

                      I said that you will never be allowed to make a Mickey cartoon as long as the Walt Disney Company is around.

                      Are you claiming that Disney would have a valid case or only that Disney would bring vexatious litigation? If the former, what cause of action would Disney have against DreamWorks Animation that, say, the Collodi and Kipling estates didn't have against Disney when it released Pinocchio and The Jungle Book within a year after the respective authors' copyrights expired?

                    • Are you claiming that Disney would have a valid case or only that Disney would bring vexatious litigation? If the former, what cause of action would Disney have against DreamWorks Animation that, say, the Collodi and Kipling estates didn't have against Disney when it released Pinocchio and The Jungle Book within a year after the respective authors' copyrights expired?

                      I'm claiming that Disney has enough money to buy enough votes in Congress to get their way and that this issue isn't so important to the average member of the public to stop them.

                      This isn't guns or religion or schools, this is copyright/trademarks/etc. The Collodi and Kipling estates weren't big, weren't using their stuff (not enough anyway), and didn't own a handful of Congress critters.

                      Disney is actively making billions and billions of dollars today, right now, using Mickey. The chances of it being use

              • "as well as the short films Plane Crazy, The Gallopin' Gaucho, and Steamboat Willie"

                They are too valuable to be allowed to expire. Expect very intense lobbying for another extension, probably pushed as essential to 'protect America's creative industries.'

                • The opinion of the Supreme Court in Eldred v. Ashcroft was that "perpetual copyright on the installment plan" was forbidden, but harmonization of the copyright term to that of another major developed economy (in this case the EU) was acceptable. So first, "America's creative industries" would have to convince another major developed economy to extend its own copyright term before 2025. The EU is unlikely, as its life plus 70 term is derived as an approximation of "lifetime of those heirs who knew the author

                  • That all sounds nice, and it is a wonderful legal argument on Slashdot...

                    But the house that the mouse built would spend a billion dollars if it had to in order to make sure that doesn't happen.

                    They could fully fund an entire election campaign out of petty cash.

                    It just will not happen, there is too much money at stake and this isn't an issue that the general public cares about.

                  • Easy workaround. Don't pass it as American law first - make it a condition of an international agreement, just like the last time.

                    • by tepples ( 727027 )

                      If that were the plan, a term exceeding life plus 70 would have been introduced in the TPP negotiations. Do any TPP leaks mention a longer term?

                    • Perhaps that is part of why the negotiations are being conducted in secret.

            • Copyright sets distribution rights. Trademark is more about plagiarism and attribution.

              • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]

                "It is sometimes erroneously stated that the Mickey Mouse character is only copyrighted. In fact, the character, like all major Disney characters, is also trademarked, which lasts in perpetuity as long as it continues to be used commercially by its owner. So, whether or not a particular Disney cartoon goes into the public domain, the characters themselves may not be used as trademarks without authorization."

      • by Anonymous Coward

        You are saying that there never was and never will be an idea without intellectual property. Now who has the intellectual property of the idea of 'intellecutal property'?

        > Without IP, your car would be a heap of raw materials like steel, plastic, rubber, leather [...]
        > You're paying for IP and the processing of these raw materials.

        FTFY: Without processing of these raw materials, your car would be a heap of raw materials like steel, plastic, rubber, leather.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        "Without IP, your car would be a heap of raw materials like steel, plastic, rubber, leather etc."

        Which is total nonsense. Machines were built before anything like IP law was invented. Cars are just one type of machine.

      • Re:Private property? (Score:4, Informative)

        by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @09:38AM (#50596287)

        Without IP, your car would be a heap of raw materials like steel, plastic, rubber, leather etc. These raw materials are cheap and constitute a tiny fraction of the retail price of the car. You're paying for IP and the processing of these raw materials.

        Without IP, my car might be more or less advanced, that's all. On one hand there would be less incentive to research new features, on the other, the manufacturer could incorporate any they want without paying license fees. And as new manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing, drive down the cost of making one-off prototypes, research will become cheaper and eventually reach the point where hobbyists can engage in it. At that point IP will unquestionably be a hindrance, if it isn't already.


  • MANY MORE people will start creating batmobiles and replicas of other DC comics things.

    Thanks you DC comics for taking part in the same lowlife copyright troll activities so many of us loath. It will help my decision the next time I see a DC comics movie listed...

    In my absence of your upcoming film premier please enjoy this fine tune by Duck Sauce -> https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
    • by GrumpySteen ( 1250194 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:53AM (#50595741)

      MANY MORE people will start creating batmobiles and replicas of other DC comics things.

      That's actually okay and they won't do anything to prevent people from creating those replicas. It's only when someone decide to go into business creating and selling replicas that they'll take legal action to stop it.

      • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:56AM (#50595757) Journal

        That's actually okay and they won't do anything to prevent people from creating those replicas. It's only when someone decide to go into business creating and selling replicas that they'll take legal action to stop it.

        I wonder what happens if instead of them selling it, they are asked and paid to build one instead.

        • by hink ( 89192 )
          You MIGHT get away with it so long as you thoroughly document that the patron provided the ENTIRE design AND all materials. Then demonstrate that you only provided your skills and tools, and that you are available for hire for other custom automobiles.

          However, as my friend who was a screen printer told me, it can still lead to a costly legal defense for HIM if he "knowingly printed copyrighted or trademarked art". He said that being right, and paying a lawyer to prove you are right, are two different thin

      • So really, all they need to do is create more special looking cars and block out possible creation of most future iterations of vehicles...the elephantmobile, the ninjamobile, the triturbomobile...and their "weapons" and...this is from decades ago.

        I see some flaws with this, do you?
        • There isn't a company on the planet with enough money to produce every possible variation on a 'look'.

          From your suggestion of an elephantmobile, a company would have to cover all possible variations of trunk length and diameter, ear length and width and angle from the body, tusk length and curvature and diameter and color, tail length, proportion of leg length to body length, color of skin and dozens of other factors in order to try and block out all other possible elephantmobiles. Millions upon millions

          • How do you see that implied. The 1966 TV show Batmobile is "the one" everyone thinks of as the original Batmobile. I never saw another one before that one. And every Batmobile made for the movies is a knock-off on that one. It certainly does not look anything like the comic version that I had to look up in a Google search and have never before seen in my life.

            This judge is saying that a newly created car, that looks nothing like any car made before, is a derivative and a copy just because of the name. So th

            • a newly created car, that looks nothing like any car made before,

              REALLY? You're going to claim that THIS DAMN NEAR PERFECT REPLICA [fiero.nl] of the Batmobile from the 1966 show doesn't look anything like any car made before even though it looks EXACTLY like the one from the show?

              • You know what? I think I was mistaken on what is said to be infringing. The summary states that "Towle infringed upon DCâ(TM)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." I thought that meant the 1966 show and 1989 movie were the unauthorized derivative works. I thought that seemed weird because I had never heard that the original show was unauthorized, but that's what it looked to be saying. So
      • How far does this "character" concept extend? Do you need permission to sell your home-made stormtrooper costume? Do stealth airplanes and the "invisible" flying aircraft carrier violate the "character" of Wonder Woman's invisible airplane? Are you allowed to sell your Pontiac Firebird after installing a K.I.T.T. kit?

        • How far does this "character" concept extend? Do you need permission to sell your home-made stormtrooper costume? Do stealth airplanes and the "invisible" flying aircraft carrier violate the "character" of Wonder Woman's invisible airplane? Are you allowed to sell your Pontiac Firebird after installing a K.I.T.T. kit?

          If you're selling a one-off home-made Storm Trooper armor set, I doubt Disney cares. That happens all the time.

          If you're selling thousands of machine made Storm Trooper armor sets that you had imported form China, you're going to lose.

      • by dirk ( 87083 )

        While you are probably correct, my issue with this thinking is that they CAN go after anyone for making a replica. If the intent is that they will only go after people selling them, then that is how the law/ruling should read. The law currently gives them the ability to go after anyone creating a replica, even something as silly as a 10 year old kid making one out of cardboard (no, I don't think they would ever be dumb enough to do that, but legally they could). We should never rely on companies to do the r

  • by ihtoit ( 3393327 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @07:53AM (#50595739)

    I'd like to know where "derivative works" meets "cold replica"?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    The Bat Mobile and likeness thereof would be a Trademark issue, not a Copyright issue.

  • by aitikin ( 909209 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @08:57AM (#50596019)
    Really? I'm the only one who noticed the summery's reference to the "9th U.S. Circus Court of Appeals"?
  • by Munchr ( 786041 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @09:10AM (#50596079)
    How is this reconciled with automakers not being allowed to pursue copyright claims against makers/sellers/distributors of replicas and kit-cars? I thought previous court cases determined that vehicles could not be copyrighted, and automakers only enjoyed trademark protection against the specific logos and trademarks placed on the vehicles?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The judge seems to not see that there is a difference between THE Batmobile and A Batmobile.

      THE Batmobile, build by George Barris for the 1960's TV show (from the Ford Futura concept car) sold at the 2013 Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale auction for $4.3 million.

      A Batmobile replica seems to go for anything up to $150K, depending on how good it is.

      People know what the real things are and the difference in what they are worth to them are, as one can see, is remarkably different. Also, trying to pass off a replica

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Don't copy that jalopy!

    • I dunno, boats have been copyrighted for a long time.

  • He should have gone for a Fair Use argument.

    By law, the fair use exception applies when:

    1. Acceptable purpose.

    2. Nature of work (idea are not copyrightable)

    3. Amount copied.

    4. Affect on market for copyright holder.

    In reverse, order.

    4. The car's sale will INCREASE the market for comics, movies, books, TV etc. Qualifies as Fair Use.

    3. Amount copied: Minimal. The car is a minimal portion of the Batman mythos. Qualifies as Fair Use.

    2. Nature of work. It is based on design, so it can not esca

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1. This is the part of fair use that often has the most wiggle room, but this is definitely a huge stretch. The seller here is making Batmobile replicas for commercial sale, period. It's definitely not parody, educational, or transformative.

      3. Amount Copied - The original work here is the Batmobile, NOT the entirety of the Batman mythos. Thus, 100% of the original work was copied! Your claim is like saying that selling bootleg CDs of The White Album is fair use, since it is a minimal portion of the Beat

      • 1. is a stretch, but doable if he was careful. He himself would not be violating copyright at all - he sold the unmodified car. Modifying your car to look like the bat mobile is a) not for resale and b) for a legal use if done as part of a charity event, which I suggested.

        3. I was not aware that DC ever actively sold Batrmobiles. If that is correct, then they would have a copyright on the Batmobile. But if I am correct and they NEVER SOLD BATMOBILES, then their copyright is on the Batman mythos, not

  • by Jim Hall ( 2985 ) on Friday September 25, 2015 @11:13AM (#50597213) Homepage

    From my reading of this article, I think the ruling could be problematic for other makers of props that are meant to be similar to film props. Park Sabers [parksabers.com] leaps to mind.

    They explain in their FAQ [parksabers.com] "Q. Are you associated with Lucasfilm Ltd.? A. No. We are not associated with any Lucasfilm Ltd. Film or frachise. All of our designs are the property of Parks Sabers, Inc." However, I think it's pretty obvious that the designs for many of these sabers are lifted from the movies: Luke's first lightsaber [parksabers.com] and Luke's second lightsaber [parksabers.com]?

    I have the Graflex ESB (bought it the month before Episode I came out, but it was called something else then) and it's a dead ringer for Luke's first lightsaber in Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back. The "ESB" name is a big hint.

    This ruling should concern makers like these. As others have pointed out, the key factor is these are made to be sold. Looks like the ruling doesn't affect people who make their own props for their own use.

  • > protection of imaginary property is essential

    k.

    Still pretty sure that it's just a constant stream of sue-happy groups and their skirmishes, poking and jabbing and gouging, occasionally making off with a settlement. Only an idiot would derive a sense of precedent or (LOL) a moral standard from the parasitic fray.

  • I glued a back and forth cascading red LED strip lighting on front of my Pinto.

    I hope Knight Rider don't sue me!

    • by captjc ( 453680 )

      That depends, are you selling it as an unlicensed Knight Rider KITT conversion kit? No? Then you are probably OK.

      I am very much on the side of Fair Use and dislike the abuse of copyright that has all but killed the public domain and reduced pop-culture into this sick rehash of regurgitating the same IP time and again, but selling unlicensed replicas of the Batmobile cannot really be defended.

      This isn't some guy who did a home conversion and was showing it off, or even mashing up and or parodying the design

    • by ebvwfbw ( 864834 )

      No but the police might stop you for trying to imitate an emergency vehicle.
      Drag you out by the hair, taze you... put you in jail for resisting arrest.

  • Not specific to the US, but how does the logic play out?

    If Benz can't claim copyright on the Smart, how does "character" imbue the Batmobile with copyright protection? Couldn't Towle just wait for another to be built, and then copy that (not specific DC property) following the line "if a vehicle varies in its technical specification, then any external similarities are irrelevant".

    It is a strange world where IP has more consideration than an actual creation.

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