Does copyright exist in the Batmobile? Is a maker of customised cars, that have similarities to the Batmobile, breaking the law?
An American court has had to consider these issues when DC Comics recently launched a legal action against car maker Mark Towle, owner of “Gotham Garages”, for his customised car creations.
Can there be copyright in the Batmobile?
The answer to this question is yet to be decided, but the debate has raised some interesting questions. Can copyright exist in a utilitarian object? Is the Batmobile a work of art? Could you be in the line of fire if you create a “Batsuit” for your next fancy dress party… ?
In Australia, copyright protection doesn’t usually cover artistic works that are purely functional. The criteria for copyright to exist are that the work must be an artistic work, that is, a work of artistic craftsmanship. To be considered a work of artistic craftsmanship, the work must display aesthetic appeal and craftsmanship. And Australian courts have shown that this doesn’t mean it has to be handmade.
In America copyright can’t exist in a “useful article”, which by definition is an object that has an intrinsic utilitarian function. And a classic example of this is the body of a car. But copyright CAN exist in the pictorial, graphic or sculptural authorship of the car that can be separate to the utilitarian aspects of the object, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the author then has exclusive rights to make cars from that pictorial representation of the car.
The decision will have big implications for the film merchandising industry, which is worth billions. It is yet to be seen how the American courts decide this issue, so stay tuned!
If you have any questions in relation to copyright or other intellectual property rights, just pop us a note to [email protected] or call us on 02 8006 0830 for a confidential discussion. We would be happy to assist.