In 1974, H.B. Halicki produced the first Gone In 60 Seconds movie. Similar to the later remake that was licensed by Halicki’s widow, the objective involved a Ford Mustang as the final car to steal. While the plot was not quite the same nor was the year of Mustang desired, the codename “Eleanor” was shared between the two blockbuster hits. When the opening credits played in the 1974 version, Halicki had given credit to Eleanor as a starring member, something his widow has fought to establish as a copyrightable character.
In the 2000 version, Eleanor had shifted out of its 1971 Mustang attire donning yellow and black paint scheme and into a sleek gray and black customized Shelby GT 500. This is where the widow would begin to bring lawsuits towards Shelby Trust in an effort to prevent the company from licensing the GT 500 name. Aside from going after Shelby Trust, Mrs. Halicki and went after GT 500 manufacturers, owners, auction houses, and even YouTube builders, claiming they had infringed on her alleged copyright of the Eleanor name because their builds resembled the movie car or namesake. It was at this point Shelby Trust had no other option but to sue to protect its licensees Shelby GT 500 owners.
The problem for Mrs. Halicki was that everything hinged on Eleanor being a copyrightable character. Unfortunately for Mrs. Halicki, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California decisively ruled that the Eleanor code-named vehicles shown in the movies are NOT deserving of any “character” copyright protection. Furthermore the court went on to criticize Mrs. Halicki and her counsel for misleading prior courts through their “unfortunate practice of embellishing facts in their briefing” and causing “factual inaccuracies” to make their way into a Ninth Circuit opinion “that likely assumed the facts were true” when they were not.
The Halicki Parties assign anthropomorphic characteristics to the [purported Eleanor] character, such as strength, talent, endurance, and a tendency to always save her leading man. In the Court’s view, these characteristics are an invention of overzealous advocacy. U.S. District Court for the Central District of California
“We can finally tell all our important licensees and Shelby GT 500 owners that Mrs. Halicki has absolutely no right to complain about or file a lawsuit based upon the looks of any car licensed by the Shelby Trust. That is exactly why we had to go to the extreme time and expense of pursuing our claims against Mrs. Halicki in court. The true value of all Shelby GT 500s is now secure with this news,” says Neil Cummings, co-trustee of the Shelby Trust.
This was not only a big win for owners of the GT 500 who can sleep a little better knowing their prized vehicle is safe, but also a big win for the custom car culture and automotive industry. Now movie cars can now be enjoyed without legal ramifications that Eleanor had behind its name. While we are sure new movie cars will enter the market in the coming years, we just hope this will be the last lawsuit regarding trademarks based on looks.