Mark Towle’s legal battle with Warner Bros changed how things used to function at Gotham Garage for building a Batmobile replica.
Replica vehicles are always tricky. If a car-builder makes one that’s terrible, no one really cares. But
make ’em close enough to be considered authentic, and you also attract the attention of more than just potential customers. Mark Towle, founder of Gotham Garage, and star of the hit series Car Masters: Rust To Riches, may have made his name transforming $1,000 beaters into beautiful classic cars. But it was building Batmobile replicas that made Towle infamous in the best way possible.
But the current working of Gotham Garage is highly influenced by one very critical event that occurred with Towle over a decade ago. Warner Bros sued Gotham Garage for breaching copyright and trademark regulations by creating replicas of the famous Batmobile.
When Did Gotham Garage Get Sued?
Besides building customized vehicles, Towle and his crew at Gotham Garage would also make replicas of some of the most famous movie cars. One of his notable works is the iconic imitation of the Speed Racer car. He even got the official license to build replicas of the celebrated Speed Racer’s Mach 5. Later, he made two reproductions of the original Batmobile and sold them for $90,000 each. And that’s precisely what led to him landing in a legal battle with Warner Bros in 2011.
Rewinding a bit more, Mark Towle liked to build stuff from an early age. He had a natural talent for customizing existing things into unique objects. Later in life, he got successful gigs as a prop technician with movie studios and television production units. For a while, he used to earn his living by making unique props for television shows and movies. Towle was also often asked to create custom cars for these productions. His work was featured in several popular shows during that period, which earned him a respectable reputation in the trade.
Mark Towle Speed Racer Mach 5HotCars
After working as a prop technician for a number of years, Towle decided to go solo. He came up with the idea of opening his customization shop in California. And that’s how Gotham Garage was born. He started using his talent of converting “Rust To Riches” by resto-modding old vehicles into stunning pieces of automotive art and later selling them for profit. But Towle didn’t just stop at cars. He also worked on bikes, boats, and other forms of non-automotive machines, such as helicopters.
In 2011, Warner Bros filed a lawsuit against Mark Towle to the tune of $20,000, arguing that he had breached the copyright and trademark regulations by creating two imitations of their DC Comics’ “character” Batmobile. The lawsuit stated that Towle was in the wrong for making a replica of the Batmobile from ABC’s 1966 television show Batman and another version of the vehicle from the 1989 Batman movie and then later selling these for profit.
Towle and his attorney Larry Zerner argued against the lawsuit by stating that neither version of the Batmobile fell under copyright protection. And that DC comics (a subsidiary of Warner Bros) did not own the rights to the said vehicle. They also argued that limiting the imitation of a notable car such as the Batmobile will impact the industry negatively.
Original 1966 Batmobile Front Three QuartersHollywood Stars Cars Museum
But the movie studio counter-argued that the Batmobile first appeared in DC Comics in 1941, and George Barris later turned it into an actual vehicle for the 1960s ABC television show Batman. Another version of the Batmobile was created in 1989 for the feature film Batman by the production designer Anton Furst who later assigned the rights to Warner Bros.
After considering the arguments from both sides, the US District Court Judge ruled in favor of Warner Bros. He stated that “the Batmobile is a character that exists in two and three-dimensional forms.” And that Towle didn’t just copy the design of a car; he copied the whole character.
The District Court not only ruled against Towle but also fined him for replicating the design of the Batmobile. Though losing this court battle was a significant setback, it was not the end of the road for this California resident. He and his team at Gotham Garage continued to produce great custom vehicles for their customers. Their talent was eventually noticed by the folks at Netflix, which led to the production of the show Car Masters: Rust To Riches.
The show’s first episode featured Towle and the rest of his crew, including Tony Quinones, Constance Nunes, Shawn Pilot, and Michael “Caveman” Pyle, aired on September 14, 2018. The series is currently running in its fourth season, with its fifth installment likely to hit Netflix this year.