A recent ruling by a US court has declared the Batmobile, the popular comic book superhero Batman’s hi-tech, crime-fighting ride, eligible for copyright protection. The Batmobile, as portrayed in the comic book, television show and film, is a wheeled, armoured and self-powered motor vehicle fully equipped with the latest state of the art gadgets and technology.
Courts usually apply a 3-step test to ascertain eligibility for copyright protection of characters from comic books, television shows or films. According to the test, firstly, the character must possess physical and conceptual qualities. Secondly, it must be “sufficiently delineated” in order to be recognized by readers and audiences over varying spans of time. And lastly, it must possess especially distinctive characteristics.
The Batmobile, which is an “automotive character”, has passed the 3-step test at the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and is now eligible for copyright protection as the court has ruled out on 23 September, 2015.
DC comics, the publisher and copyright owner of the Batman comic books, first introduced the Batmobile in 1941. Although the design of the car has evolved over time and has tailored to the imagination of its varying creators, its core features remain unchanged.
The Judge held that, despite the evolution of the design and concept over time, the consistency of the core features, i.e. weaponry, equipment and state of the art technology, have remained constant. The Judge wrote for a three-judge panel, “As a copyrightable character, the Batmobile need not have a consistent appearance in every context, so long as the character has distinctive character traits and attributes”.
"As Batman so sagely told Robin, 'In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,'" quoted Judge Sandra Ikuta as part of her concluding remarks.