Towle's attorney, Larry Zerner, argued that US copyright law doesn't allow "useful articles" to be copyrighted. Zerner, in court documents, insisted that Warner Brothers' lawsuit claimed the entire Batmobile was protected including doors, seats and tires. The judge agreed, but ruled the law does allow copyrighting of unique design elements of useful articles.
"The implications of a ruling upholding this standard are easy to imagine," Zerner wrote. " Ford, Toyota, Ferrari and Honda would start publishing comic books so that they could protect what, up until now, was unprotectable."
US District Judge Ronald Lew disagreed and ruled that, "The Batmobile is a character and exists in both two- and three-dimensional forms. Its existence in three-dimensional form is the consequence of the Batmobile's portrayal in the 1989 live-motion film and 1966 television series.
"Defendant did not copy the design of a mere car; he copied the Batmobile character," Lew continued. "The fact that the unauthorized Batmoble replicas that Defendant manufactured – which are derivative works – may be 'useful articles' is irrelevant. A derivative work can still infringe the underlying copyrighted work even if the derivative work is not independently entitled to copyright protection."
Zerner did, however, duck part of the lawsuit that asserted he willfully infringed on Warner's rights. The judge wrote that Zerner did at least wait until the design patents on the cars expired, and therefore didn't think copyright law applied.
Meanwhile we look forward to the Ferrari comic books.
The entire 54-page court ruling can be read here in PDF form.