While George Barris is preparing to sell his original 1966 Batmobile at the upcoming Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, another custom builder is attempting to stave off a copyright lawsuit. Mark Towle has been building Batmobile replicas through his business, Gotham Garage, for years, and has sold off two versions of the famous ’66 TV car and at least one recreation of Bruce Wayne’s ride from the 1989 film. His efforts have earned him a two-year legal battle with Warner Brothers subsidiary DC Comics, with the publisher claiming its copyright protection extends to “the overall look and feel” of the Batmobile and that Towle has violated those copyrights.
Towle’s attorney, meanwhile, argues that DC Comics is attempting to rewrite copyright law by applying the protections to automobiles, which “do not qualify as sculptural works and are thus not eligible for copyright protection.” If a judge decides the design elements found on the Batmobile are useful, the case will likely go Towle’s way, as functional elements cannot be protected under US copyright law. But DC Comics contends the Batmobile is intellectual property and that Towle has profited from the company’s efforts.
The custom builder says that a victory for DC Comics could “completely upend existing copyright law,” and open the door for manufacturers to copyright any number of useful elements found on their products. What’s more, anyone building a tribute to famous cars from the television or movie industries could find themselves in legal hot water.