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Making your own Batmobile violates copyright, according to new court ruling

Custom cars based on movie or television props have generally resided in murky legal waters, with vehicles often covered by a different set of guidelines than other works due to their ability to serve a wide variety of necessary purposes. It looks like that could be changing, however, as a court recently ruled that copyright rules extend to car design — especially when that car is a replica of the Batmobile.

U.S. District Judge Ronald Lew ruled on Thursday that a car design can indeed be subject to copyright protection, and found the owner of Gotham Garage, Mark Towles, in violation of that copyright due to his business of selling replica Batmobiles. DC Comics sued Towles last year over the cars, and the case was finally decided this week.

Towles had originally attempted to dismiss the lawsuit, claiming that the Copyright Act doesn’t protect “useful articles” like a car and its design, but Lew kicked his argument to the curb. According to the judge, the “useful articles” exception doesn’t apply when there are so many elements of the car that serve no practical, well… use.

In his ruling, Lew said Towles “ignores the exception to the ‘useful article’ rule, which grants copyright protection to nonfunctional, artistic elements of an automobile design that can be physically or conceptually separated from the automobile.”

As The Hollywood Reporter points out, this ruling means that there’s likely to be a flood of similar copyright battles being fought in the near future over such things as superhero costumes and other replica-type items.

Cosplayers, consider yourself warned.