An interesting look at the intersection between automobiles, Justin Bieber, IP law, and comic books:
Last year, DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros., sued Mark Towles, who operated a business called “Gotham Garage,” which sold imitation batmobiles. DC, represented by attorney Andy Coombs, accused Towles of violating its copyright and trademark and confusing the public into thinking that his cars were authorized products.
Trademark is one thing, but can an automobile design really be copyrighted?
According to U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew, it can if it’s really special.
Towles moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the Copyright Act affords no protection to “useful articles.”
But Judge Lew begs to differ, ruling that Towles “ignores the exception to the ‘useful article’ rule, which grants copyright protection to nonfunctional, artistic elements of an automobile design that can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile.”
In other words, the judge looked at the Batmobile and found there could be elements there that served no real purpose except it was pictorially unique. The judge will likely begin a fact-finding examination, such as whether the car really needs to be bat-shaped for it to be a crazy, cool ride.
ED Kain asksOn a side note, wouldn’t you think the occasional custom Batmobile would be just about the best sort of free advertising DC Comics could hope for?
It is! Right up until it’s being drunk driven, or involved in some sort of accident.
On The Drew Carey Show, Drew won a Batmobile in some contest. He lost it when he was caught having sex in it because apparently the car came with a “morals clause.”
In all seriousness, the benefits of advertising are probably outweighed by potential hazards and potential lose revenue if they ever decide to work with a carmaker on a limited-release or something-or-other. And, more to the point, copyrights that are not defended are lost. So, in a weird way - that makes some sense after deep thought - Warner Bros is compelled to actually defend this.
And, as far as the free advertising goes: Batman, as an entity, doesn’t really need the advertising. It already has brand recognition.
Behind all of this is the bigger stink: is that DC (or anybody) still owns the rights to Batman at all. Of course, that would not likely have any bearing on the physical likeness of the Batmobile, which is more recent (and would, of course, cover a lot of different designs).