This week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a case out of the 9th Circuit holding that the Batmobile is entitled to copyright protection. The case is DC Comics v. Towle, where DC Comics sued a California resident who was building and selling Batmobile replicas without DC Comic's authorization.
For fans of Batman and copyright law, the court's discussion of the three-prong test to determine whether a character in a comic book, television program, or motion picture is entitled to copyright protection.
Here is a passage from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal's Opinion where the three-prong test is discussed:
We read these precedents as establishing a three-part test for determining whether a character in a comic book, television program, or motion picture is entitled to copyright protection. First, the character must generally have “physical as well as conceptual qualities.” Air Pirates, 581 F.2d at 755. Second, the character must be “sufficiently delineated” to be recognizable as the same character whenever it appears. See Rice, 330 F.3d at 1175. Considering the character as it has appeared in different productions, it must display consistent, identifiable character traits and attributes, although the character need not have a consistent appearance. See Halicki, 547 F.3d at 1224. Third, the character must be “especially distinctive” and “contain some unique elements of expression.” Halicki, 547 F.3d at 1224. It cannot be a stock character such as a magician in standard magician garb. Rice, 330 F.3d at 1175. Even when a character lacks sentient attributes and does not speak (like a car), it can be a protectable character if it meets this standard. Halicki, 547 F.3d at 1224.