Shelby Trust Wins Legal Battle To Sell Eleanor Ford Mustangs

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The courts have ruled that the Eleanor name is not exclusive to movie character cars.

The Shelby Trust has just won a decade-long legal battle against Denice Halicki, the surviving spouse of H.B. "Toby" Halicki, who claimed that her late husband's films effectively created a standalone copyrightable character known as Eleanor that others had illegally copied.

As reported by Business Wire, Mrs. Halicki felt that the films her husband had shot with cars named Eleanor had created a character that only she had the legal rights to, claiming that this meant that the Shelby Trust and other companies could not build, sell, or auction Mustang Shelby GT500s in Eleanor guise. To gain an understanding of why she feels this way, we must provide a quick history lesson.

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Toby Halicki produced the original Gone in 60 Seconds film from 1974, 1982's The Junkman, and 1983's Deadline Auto Theft. Various yellow and black Mustangs that were codenamed "Eleanor" appeared in Gone in 60 Seconds and Deadline Auto Theft, while a beat-up prop car from the first film was also featured in The Junkman. The cringe-fest that was the 2000 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds then featured what is arguably the most famous version of Eleanor, a 1967 Shelby GT500 painted grey with black stripes.

Mrs. Halicki claimed that all of these different vehicles known as Eleanor constituted a single copyrightable character that she owned, and this alleged copyright ownership supposedly meant she had the power to prohibit the Shelby Trust from licensing other individuals and companies to manufacture and even sell or auction GT500s.

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It is well documented that Mrs. Halicki has sued and threatened those who manufacture grey and black GT500s, as well as auction houses and even individual customers. In her eyes, only Eleanor replicas built by Fusion Motor Company are legal, and this continual onslaught effectively forced the Shelby Trust to sue in order to protect its licensees and owners of Shelby GT500 models.

Thankfully, this dispute is now at an end after the US District Court for the Central District of California has decisively ruled on the matter, stating that the various vehicles named Eleanor in these films are not deserving of any "character" copyright protection. The Court's 41-page ruling on the matter is scathing.

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In the Court's opinion, Mrs. Halicki and her legal team have misled 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." After an independent review of the various films, the Court found that Mrs. Halicki and her counsel had made claims about the films that were "plainly false" or "an embellishment, to say the least." Moreover, the Court said that "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."

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This means that Shelby customers who already own replicas of the movie car can rest easy knowing that they will not face any legal harassment. It also means that more companies and individuals may now create Eleanor copies without the fear of retribution. Perhaps Ford will now build a special-edition Shelby GT500 based on the upcoming S650 Mustang and give it grey paint, spotlights, and black stripes. This would go well with the Mustang Bullitt model that Ford has offered on multiple occasions, but the main thing is that the classic GT500 can be enjoyed freely.

"We can finally tell all our important licensees and Shelby GT500 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," said Neil Cummings, who oversaw the entire process as co-trustee of 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 GT500s is now secure with this news."

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Source Credits: Business Wire

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