DC Comics v. Mark Towle et al

Filing 22

ORDER by Judge Ronald S.W. Lew. The Court hereby GRANTS in Part and DENIES in Part Defendant's Request for Judicial Notice 16 . The Court GRANTS Defendant's request as it pertains to the copyright registration records (Exhibits 4-9) and the design patents (Exhibits 12-14). The Court DENIES Defendant's Request as it pertains to the photographs of the Batmobile (Exhibits 1-3) and the excerpts from the Comic Books (Exhibits 10-11). As to Defendant Mark Towle's Motion, the Court hereby DENIES Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) 15 . (lom)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 DC COMICS 12 13 Plaintiff, v. 14 MARK TOWLE, an individual and d/b/a Gotham Garage, 15 and DOES 1-10, inclusive, 16 Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) CV 11-3934 RSWL (OPx) ORDER re: Defendant Mark Towle’s Motion to Dismiss Claim of Copyright Infringement Pursuant to FRCP 12(b(6) [15] 17 18 On January 25, 2012, Defendant Mark Towle’s 19 (“Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss Claim of Copyright 20 Infringement Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil 21 Procedure 12(b)(6) [15] came on for regular calendar 22 before the Court. The Court having reviewed all papers 23 submitted pertaining to this Motion and having 24 considered all arguments presented to the Court, NOW 25 FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS: 26 As a preliminary matter, the Court hereby GRANTS in 27 Part and DENIES in Part Defendant’s Request for 28 Judicial Notice. The Court GRANTS Defendant’s request 1 1 as it pertains to the copyright registration records 2 (Exhibits 4-9) and the design patents (Exhibits 12-14). 3 The Court finds that these documents are matters of 4 Public Record and appropriate for judicial notice 5 pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201. The Court 6 DENIES Defendant’s Request as it pertains to the 7 photographs of the Batmobile (Exhibits 1-3) and the 8 excerpts from the Comic Books (Exhibits 10-11). The 9 Court finds that the Complaint does not necessarily 10 rely on these items, nor are they matters of public 11 record. Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699, 705–06 12 (9th Cir. 1998). 13 As to Defendant’s Motion, the Court hereby DENIES 14 Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. Under Federal Rule of 15 Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a dismissal can be based on 16 the lack of cognizable legal theory or the lack of 17 sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal 18 theory. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see also Balistreri 19 v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 20 1990). A party need not, however, state the legal 21 basis for his claim, only the facts underlying it. 22 McCalden v. California Library Ass'n, 955 F.2d 1214, 23 1223 (9th Cir. 1990). 24 In the present motion, Defendant has moved the 25 Court to dismiss Plaintiff’s copyright infringement 26 claim. In its Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that 27 Defendant has been producing and selling unlicensed 28 replica vehicle modification kits based on vehicle 2 1 design copyrights from Plaintiff’s Batman property, 2 including various iterations of the fictional 3 automobile, the Batmobile. 4 In order to establish a successful claim for 5 copyright infringement, a plaintiff must establish the 6 following: (1) plaintiff owns the copyright for the 7 allegedly infringed material and (2) defendant violated 8 at least one exclusive right granted to the copyright 9 holder. 17 U.S.C § 501(a); Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon. 10 com, Inc., 508 F.3d 1146, 1159 (9th Cir. 2006). Here, 11 the Court finds that the Complaint pleads enough facts 12 to support both elements of a copyright infringement 13 claim. 14 For the first element of copyright infringement, 15 the Court finds that Plaintiff pleads sufficient facts 16 to support the assertion that it owns the copyrights to 17 the relevant Batmobiles in dispute. Plaintiff 18 specifically pleads that it created the comic book 19 character Batman and is in the business of licensing 20 copyrights associated with Batman. FAC ¶¶ 6-7. 21 Furthermore, the Complaint alleges that Plaintiff owns 22 all “DC Comics Copyrighted Designs,” which include the 23 Batman characters and their associated Batmobile 24 vehicles. FAC ¶ 11. Accordingly, because the 25 Complaint specifically pleads that Plaintiff owns “DC 26 Comics Copyright Designs,” the Court can reasonably 27 infer that Plaintiff owns the Copyright for the 28 Batmobiles in dispute. As such, the Court finds that 3 1 Plaintiff has satisfied its pleading requirement for 2 the first element of copyright infringement. 3 As to the second element, the Court finds that 4 Plaintiff pleads sufficient facts to support the 5 allegation that Defendant violated an exclusive right 6 of Plaintiff’s copyright ownership. Federal copyright 7 law grants all copyright owners the exclusive rights to 8 reproduce and distribute products based on the owners’ 9 copyrights. 17 U.S.C. § 106. In the Complaint, 10 Plaintiff adequately alleges that Defendant infringed 11 on Plaintiff’s copyright by manufacturing, 12 distributing, and selling automobiles bearing 13 Plaintiff’s copyrighted designs. FAC ¶ 25-26. In all, 14 the Court finds that the Complaint pleads sufficient 15 facts to support the two elements for Copyright 16 Infringement and thus is not appropriately dismissed 17 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). 18 Defendant argues that, regardless of the pleadings, 19 the copyright infringement claim should be dismissed 20 because the Batmobile and all its variations are not 21 copyrightable objects as a matter of law. The Court 22 finds, however, that Defendant’s argument lacks merit. 23 Defendant is correct that in general, the Copyright Act 24 affords no protection to “useful articles” or items 25 with an intrinsic utilitarian function such as 26 automobiles. Leicester v. Warner Bros., 232 F.3d 1212, 27 1216-17 (9th Cir. 2000). Defendant’s argument, 28 however, ignores the exception to the “useful article” 4 1 rule, which grants copyright protection to non2 functional, artistic elements of an automobile design 3 that can be physically or conceptually separated from 4 the automobile. Id. at 1219, n.3. As the facts are 5 pled in the Complaint, the Court can make the 6 reasonable inference that there may be non-functional 7 artistic elements of the Batmobile that may possibly be 8 separated from the utilitarian aspect of the 9 automobile. Klarfeld, 944 F.2d at 585 (9th Cir. 10 1991)(holding that all reasonable inferences must be 11 drawn in favor of the non-moving party in a motion to 12 dismiss). As such, the Court finds that the Batmobile 13 and all of its relevant embodiments are not, as a 14 matter of law, excluded from copyright protection. 15 In sum, based on the foregoing reasons, the Court 16 hereby DENIES Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Claim of 17 Copyright Infringement Pursuant to Federal Rule of 18 Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). 19 20 IT IS SO ORDERED. 21 DATED: January 26, 2012 22 23 24 25 HONORABLE RONALD S.W. LEW Senior, U.S. District Court Judge 26 27 28 5