While you may be able to sing “Happy Birthday” with impunity now that a judge has rendered the song’s copyright invalid, you still can’t hum the 25-note tune from behind the wheel of your custom-made, screen-accurate 1966 Batmobile. Variety reports that three judges on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals have ruled that the Batmobile is a “unique and highly recognizable” character in its own right, and is therefore subject to copyright.
The decision comes after Mark Towle—a mechanic who was sued by DC Comics in 2011 for selling replicas of the Batmobile, both from the 1966 TV series and 1989 movie, for $90,000 a pop—challenged the suit. That led to a nuanced and probably very dorky discussion of the history of characters in entertainment and of the Batmobile itself, which is discussed in the court’s opinion with a level of detail rarely seen outside of Comic-cons and message boards. (It also contains the phrase “Holy copyright law, Batman!,” because why not?)
“As Batman so sagely told Robin, ‘In our well-ordered society, protection of private property is essential,’” Judge Sandra Ikuta nerdily writes in the court opinion. “Here, we conclude that the Batmobile character is the property of DC.” And that applies to all the Batmobiles: “No matter its specific physical appearance, the Batmobile is a ‘crime-fighting’ car with sleek and powerful characteristics that allow Batman to maneuver quickly while he fights villains,” the opinion states. The legal status of the Bat-Copter remains ambiguous.