from the holy-copyright,-batman dept
We wrote last year about a copyright dispute between DC Comics and guy by the name of Mark Towle, who had been custom producing Batmobiles for Batman fans. Mike's analysis in that post is wonderfully detailed and you should read it if you want a deep dive into the specifics of how the court ruled, but I will summarize it here for you as well. The 9th Circuit ruled that the Batmobile was deserving of the same copyright protections as other fictional characters, despite it being a depiction of an inanimate object, and it completely ignored the entire expression/idea dichotomy that is supposed to govern copyright law. That dichotomy can be explained as giving copyright protection to specific expressions of an idea without protecting the idea itself. For instance, the depiction of HAL the homicidal computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey may be covered under copyright, but the idea of a homicidal artificial intelligence is not.
Yet, despite the Batmobile's ever-changing appearance and functionality, and despite its expression in comic and film form not being identical to custom real-life productions by a car enthusiast, the court ruled against Towle and essentially claimed the very idea of the Batmobile was deserving of copyright protection. The last remaining opportunity to have the courts specifically weigh the idea/expression dichotomy in this case would have been the Supreme Court, but SCOTUS has apparently declined to take the case up.
The Supreme Court is staying out of a copyright dispute involving a California man who produced replicas of the Batmobile for car-collecting fans of the caped crusader. The justices on Monday let stand a lower court ruling that said the Batmobile's bat-like appearance and high-tech gadgets make it a character that can't be duplicated without permission from DC Comics, the copyright holder.It's cases like this in which the Supreme Court refuses to weigh in that allows courts like the 9th Circuit to seemingly specialize in wacky copyright and intellectual property rulings. One hopes that other cases in other circuits will raise similar issues enough that SCOTUS decides to step in at a later date, rather than let this be the last word on this issue. I would have thought that a court ruling that fails to even mention the idea/expression dichotomy would have been one that SCOTUS would have found ripe for comment, but apparently not. All hail the Batmobile, a character on par with Batman himself, apparently.