By on January 4, 2013

The replica-car business is the authentic and despicable cloaca of the automotive world, attracting scammers, liars, shade-tree hacks, shady African fiberglass molders, soon-to-be-disappointed owners, and lawsuit-addicted former poultry farmers in equal measure. A quick glance at the Gotham Garage website won’t reverse your opinion of the game, but the company, and it’s tatted-up owner, Mark Towle, are at the center of a rather interesting lawsuit.

At the heart of the issue is the George Barris “Batmobile”, which appeared as the vehicular star of the campy Adam-West-led Batman television show. The aforementioned “Gotham Garage” builds replica Batmobiles and has delivered two of them so far. Since the original Batmobile is nearly fifty years old, wasn’t made in any volume, and isn’t currently being produced by anyone, it would seem to be fair game for the replica makers, who regularly manage to get away with copying more recent vehicles.

Not so fast! DC Comics is getting involved. The Hollywood Reporter has the scoop, but it boils down to this: The Batmobile is part of Batman’s distinct trade dress as expressed in products derived from DC Comics. The article is worth reading because both arguments seem at least partially legitimate.

The recently-reimagined The Lincoln Motor Car Company That Makes Motor Cars And Is A Company Despite Being A Brand In Real Life And Not A Separate Company At All hasn’t weighed-in on the issue yet, which seems odd because the Batmobile is basically just a Lincoln Futura. If they fail to get involved, and the decision goes against DC Comics, there’s every chance that the replica builders of the distant future could rip off the 2013 Lincoln MKZ. And you thought Tom Hardy wearing an odd facemask and some leather bondage gear was scary!

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33 Comments on “Should It Be Legal To Build A Batmobile?...”


  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    So let me get this straight, DC’s argument is the Batmobile is part of Batman’s attire from their comics. I would would argue if anyone owns the rights to the Futura based Batmobile, it would be the Barris estate since he created something unique. This has eerie similarity to the lawsuit George Lucas lost over the Star Wars stormtrooper helmet design.

    http://www.bloomberg DOT com/news/2011-07-27/lucasfilm-loses-u-k-supreme-court-bid-over-stormtrooper-helmet.html

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      EDIT: George Barris is apparently still alive, my mistake.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      The stormtrooper helmet lawsuit ruling applies to Great Britain, not the US.

      One possible difference is that the stormtrooper helment was made specifically for & under contract to Lucasfilm (I assume). Was that batmobile made for DC comics? Did they own rights to the Adam West TV show, or was it owned by someone else?

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      There are three kinds of intellectual property protection:

      -Copyright
      -Patent
      -Trademark

      Copyright protection NEVER applies to cars in the US. Copyrights in the US do not protect useful articles like cars, tools, tables, houses, etc.

      Design patents DO protect the appearance of cars, but they have to be applied for (which I doubt Barris or DC did), and they expire after 14 years.

      The last refuge of an intellectual property scoundrel is to allege that the design is protected by a trademark “trade dress”. That the trademark actually extends beyond the name of the product to the actual appearance of the product. The classic example is Owens Corning pink fiberglass, nobody else can sell pink glass fiber.

      Caroll Shelby tried and FAILED to establish trade dress protection for the Cobra when he went after Factor 5, etc. DC probably has a better chance of establishing trade dress protection, but only in the “Batman-ish” customization that distinguishes the Batmobile from a Lincoln Futura.

      I hope DC outright loses. They are stretching “trade dress” beyond its limits, and they should have tried to work with this guy instead of just trying to shut him down.

      • 0 avatar
        thoughtspaper

        I agreed with your answer, This is very true , we can on patent by design our new or latest car design and i think its also a best way to safe our invention.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The Lincoln Motor Car Company That Makes Motor Cars And Is A Company Despite Being A Brand In Real Life And Not A Separate Company At All

    Note to Ford, please put that immediately on all the business cards of Lincoln executives.

    So will DC next go around handing out court orders to people who show up at ComiCon type events in costumes of their characters?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I would think that the crux of the problem is not the vehicle per se, but using the name to sell a product without licensing the rights.

    If the Gotham Garage didn’t call it a “Batmobile”, then I would think that DC Comics would have less of a case. But the replica builder is obviously trying to use someone else’s copyright in order to earn profits for themselves that they aren’t sharing with the copyright holder.

    • 0 avatar
      racer-esq.

      Copyrights do not protect useful articles like cars, the only protection available is trademark trade dress protection, if the court buys that DC has a trademark in the appearance of the car. A design patent, even if it was applied for, would have expired by now.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I thought the replica thing was pretty well settled. If you say it’s a replica, and it’s not externally too precise a copy, and if its a kit rather than a production vehicle, and the vehicle is no longer made, then all is fine. The basic problem Lincoln would have is that they really aren’t damaged by a 2025 replica of a 2013 MKZ. It’s really flattery, likely has parts bought from Ford, and even if its crud isn’t really going to damage Lincoln’s rep.

    I am no lawyer, but I read it all on the interwebs so it must be true. :) (Bonjour?) Anyone actually know?

    OTOH, the Batmobile is a whole other case. I would think you would need a license to make them and sell them as long as the IP isn’t yet in the public domain. Having real life copies of the Batmobile driving around likely could damage their product. Especially if the replicas are substandard. I would think a fan could build one for the purpose of having one, and even sell it when he no longer wants it, but doing it as a business seems to cross the line.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      Ferrari successfully sues to have the replica 365GTB/S cars taken out of circulation because it devalued the real ones. Mr. Shelby then tried to do the same but was told he should have filed suit decades before. Factory 5 sells a roadster not a Cobra and was part of the suit. No one could sell the Cobra emblems for the hood for a while either with their replica. There are plenty of General Lees out there as well and I don’t think anyone went after them. (Though someone should go torch the Ford Grenada with the General’s paint scheme on it that was for sale locally here a while ago).

  • avatar
    dolorean

    For a world of good taste and engineering and design refinement? No. However, life does provide for a variety of tastes (see Nissan Murano Cross-cabriolet for example of hideous design) so as long as it fits gummint regulations and doesn’t spew motor oil and its exhaust parts all over the road, I’m for it.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Just move the whole thing to china…..no one cares there about rip offs

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    About 30 years ago at a small-fry car show/swap meet I saw a Batmobile. I’m pretty sure that it was a replica (back then, there was no internet to check and the TV show had fallen out of the rerun cycle), and I remember either hearing or reading that there were a few replicas that made the car show circuit. So I think that cat has been out of the bag for awhile now.

    This whole thing is ridiculous. I still can’t believe that Rolls-Royce stopped those VW Beetle RR conversion kits that I used to lust after while reading the JC Whitney catalog as a kid. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery (not to mention free advertising).

  • avatar
    readallover

    Personally, I am waiting for the Monkeemobile replicars.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      @readallover: Your wait is over:

      http://www.batrodz.com/packages_rock-n-roll.htm

      BTW, these are the same folks making Batmobile replicas:

      http://www.batrodz.com/

  • avatar
    67dodgeman

    I think there’s a concept that if you don’t protect your “brand” against EVERY infringement, then you ultimately lost the right to protect it against ANY infringement. If you don’t stop this guy from building full size replicas of a 1960′s batmobile, how do you stop the next guy from importing 1 million battery-powered mini-cars from China styled like the 2012 version of the batmobile? Both guys are banking on the Batman brand to make a profit.

    Note that this should not stop hobbiest from building batmobiles, nor selling them if their primary goal was personal enjoyment and not profit generation.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “If you don’t stop this guy from building full size replicas of a 1960′s batmobile, how do you stop the next guy from importing 1 million battery-powered mini-cars from China styled like the 2012 version of the batmobile?”

      I didn’t bother to check, but I would presume that DC Comics maintains some sort of trademark on the use of the term “Batmobile” that would prevent a toy manufacturer from selling such a product.

      Copyright and trademark are somewhat different concepts. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that DC Comics maintains a limited trademark on “Batmobile” that doesn’t necessarily apply in this case, and that they are trying to use copyright protection as a workaround for that trademark limitation. Copyright doesn’t typically prevent this sort of thing from happening, as it protects the work itself, not the idea of the work.

  • avatar
    redav

    Lincoln Motor Car Company That Makes Motor Cars And Is A Company Despite Being A Brand In Real Life And Not A Separate Company At All won’t exist in a few years, so they won’t be able to challenge anything.

  • avatar

    This is an interesting case. As is usual with many IP cases, a powerful owner of IP is trying to expand its property rights. The defendant rightly argues that useful objects cannot, by law, be copyrighted as sculptural works. Nowadays car companies file for design patents to protect from replication but design patents and copyrights are two different species of IP.

    I suspect that much of the legal fandango is due to the fact that nobody back in the 1960s bothered to nail down IP protection for the car’s design.

    I think that’s why Twentieth Century Fox Television (or its corporate heir) isn’t involved in this case, who really has reproduction rights to the original tv series’ car is unclear. It seems to me that this case revolves around that studio’s deal with DC Comics. Today, everything would be buttoned down for toy licensing with all sorts of cross licensing agreements. It’d be interesting to look at a period toy model of the ’66 Batmobile to see how it was licensed then.

  • avatar
    doug-g

    “Tom Hardy wearing an odd facemask and some leather bondage gear”

    Could you make that a link?

  • avatar
    corntrollio

    Easy, just make it a pink Batmobile, and then you can claim it’s parody.

  • avatar
    skor

    Mcburnie Coachcraft was litigated out of business by Ferrari for producing replicas….the black Daytona Spider used on Miami Vice was a Mcburnie replica.

    On the other hand, replica firearms are produced by the thousands. For decades now the Italians have been producing replica Colt Navy, Army and Walker model revolvers. Thousands of Winchester replicas have been produced and sold as well.

  • avatar
    Dimwit

    The key to this is whether they can get it named as an objet d’art or at least a movie prop and not a vehicle. It’s obviously not a production auto but a one off custom. The thing is whether there are previous findings and I don’t think so, not from Barris anyway. I should think that it’s too late and it’s the wrong party trying this.

  • avatar
    DrunkenDonuts

    I’d like the Batmobile from the Christopher Nolan movies, please. And when traffic gets too awful, I’ll take the one that flies.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    The Black Beauty from the Green Hornet was way cooler and Bruce Lee could kick Adam West’s butt any day of the week. As a kid watching both shows (Friday night buddy!) Batman was dumb, Green Hornet was – hey, this might could be true! However, I think a hit puberty way early just watching Cat Woman in that skin tight suit!


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