DC Comics v. Towle (C.D. Cal., Feb 7, 2013):
Other than its physical features, the Batmobile is depicted as being swift, cunning, strong and elusive. For example, in the comic book Batman #5, the Batmobile “leaps away and tears up the street like a cyclone.” Joint Stip., Ex. 2, at 75. In the same comic book, the Batmobile is analogized to an “impatient steed straining at the reigns,” shivering “as its supercharged motor throbs with energy . . . and an instant later it tears after the fleeing hoodlums.” Id. at 76. The Batmobile participates in various chases and is deployed to combat Batman’s enemies. The comic books portray the Batmobile as a superhero. The Batmobile is central to Batman’s ability to fight crime and appears as Batman’s sidekick, if not an extension of Batman’s own persona.
This case is analogous to Toho Co., Ltd. v. William Morrow and Co., Inc., 33 F.Supp. 2d 1206, 1215 (C.D. Cal. 1998), which involved the “Godzilla” character, a giant lizard featured in action films. Although Godzilla assumed many shapes and personalities in the various Godzilla films, the Court found that “Godzilla
has developed a constant set of traits that distinguish him/her/it from other fictional characters,” meriting it copyright protection. Id.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the Batmobile is a character entitled to copyright protection.
Kitt from Knight Rider is a character. The 1928 Porter from My Mother the Car is a character. The Love Bug is a character. Christine is a character. But those cars were, in their own ways, at least semi-conscious. I am no DC Comics expert. Can the Batmobile talk? Can it think? Is it self-aware?
If a car has a persona, then does it have a right of publicity?