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Transportation Technology

The Copyright Battle Over Custom-Built Batmobiles 194

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Eriq Gardner writes that Warner Brothers is suing California resident Mark Towle, a specialist in customizing replicas of automobiles featured in films and TV shows, for selling replicas of automobiles from the 1960s ABC series Batman by arguing that copyright protection extends to the overall look and feel of the Batmobile. The case hinges on what exactly is a Batmobile — an automobile or a piece of intellectual property? Warner attorney J. Andrew Coombs argues in legal papers that the Batmobile incorporates trademarks with distinctive secondary meaning and that by selling an unauthorized replica, Towle is likely to confuse consumers about whether the cars are DC products are not. Towle's attorney Larry Zerner, argues that automobiles aren't copyrightable. 'It is black letter law that useful articles, such as automobiles, do not qualify as "sculptural works" and are thus not eligible for copyright protection,' writes Zerner adding that a decision to affirm copyright elements of automotive design features could be exploited by automobile manufacturers. 'The implications of a ruling upholding this standard are easy to imagine. Ford, Toyota, Ferrari and Honda would start publishing comic books, so that they could protect what, up until now, was unprotectable.'"
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The Copyright Battle Over Custom-Built Batmobiles

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  • As an art student... (Score:5, Informative)

    by SeaFox ( 739806 ) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:13AM (#42460871)

    I would argue the automobile is a sculpture, and therefore protect-able from exact replication using blueprints/tooling. However, like any work of art, it is an interpretation by the artist. If I make a Batmobile-looking car I am making what my interpretation of the Batmobile is, it's not the same as making a Batmobile. As long as I do not sell the item claiming it is, in fact, a real Batmobile or use trademarked brands on the car or in it's promotion then I should be okay.

  • by dugjohnson ( 920519 ) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @09:42AM (#42461065) Homepage
    I actually CAN'T argue with his interpretation, since IANAL. He contends that an automobile is sculpture. There is, as I understand it, a large body of law that would say that it is not. I could argue that there is more of a correlation between fashion and the styling of which is also not copyrightable for some of the same reasons.
    I DO understand copyright, in so far as it affects my life as a writer of software (it does) but in this case, the bat-mo-people are arguing trademark with a crossover into copyright and derivative works.
    I suppose I could have just said, "No, your interpretation is probably wrong", but this is /.
  • by loufoque ( 1400831 ) on Thursday January 03, 2013 @10:38AM (#42461553)

    It's Latin, from Aristotle, meaning "nobody is thought to be ignorant of the law". (first google result).
    It's the principle that all people within a certain jurisdiction are assumed to know everything about that jurisdiction's laws. In particular, you cannot use ignorance as a defense for having breached the law.
    Therefore every citizen must take preventive steps to know as much about the law as is reasonably feasible, rather than always depending on a lawyer.

    Not knowing this seriously puts in question the quality of your education.

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