COPYRIGHT

Thai wins Ultraman copyright case in Tokyo



The Tokyo District Court on September 30 has ordered Tsuburaya Productions Co of Japan to pay damages of 16.36 million yen (Bt5.9 million) to Sompote Saengduenchai of Thailand for violating his overseas copyrights on Ultraman characters.

Sompote had sued Tsuburaya Productions for 1.25 billion in compensation for damage to his business and reputation incurred in the legal tussle since 2007.

In 2004, Japan's Supreme Court handed Sompote control over Ultraman outside Japan. The ruling gave Sompote, owner and chairman of Chaiyo Productions, exclusive rights to all Ultraman characters and the Ultraman trademark in all territories except Japan. He would have distribution, reproduction and broadcasting rights in all mass media including radio and television.

There are 30 Ultraman characters on the market. The international licences for Ultraman, excluding Japan, are worth more than US$30 million (Bt1.2 billion) a year.

The latest Tokyo District Court ruling in the case was handed down last Thursday.

Sompote, also president of Tsuburaya Chaiyo Co Ltd, the licence holder, won a lawsuit against Tsuburaya Productions in a Tokyo appeals court in February 2003. Tsuburaya Productions appealed to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's decision, saying the facts had been thoroughly heard in the appeals court.

Sompote originally received permission for Ultraman's international rights outside Japan in 1976 from Noboru Tsuburaya, former chairman of Tsuburaya Productions.

However, Thailand's Supreme Court ruled in 2008 in favour of Tsuburaya Productions by finding Sompote was not a co-inventor of Ultraman as he had claimed in a legal battle that started in 1997. The ruling meant Sompote and his company, Tsuburaya Chaiyo, had to stop profiteering from Ultraman.

Tsuburaya Productions sued Chaiyo Productions in December 1997, claiming that it had violated Tsuburaya Productions' rights to the Ultraman copyright and trademark. Sompote, the owner of Chaiyo Productions, declared that his company would exercise its "legitimate right" to fight any attempt to violate its rights to the Ultraman trademark after two courts - one in Thailand and the other in Japan - agreed that his company owned all rights to the character outside Japan.

Sompote once told The Nation that he created the Ultraman character in the 1960s with Eiji Tsuburaya, who has died. He also said Tsuburaya granted him wide rights to the character in 1976 based on the financial support Sompote had given to Tsuburaya since 1973.

Tsuburaya Productions says the character was created in 1966 by Japanese artist Tohru Narita.

Last year, the Thai Intellectual Property Court and the Tokyo District Court both ruled in favour of the Thai company.

However, the Japanese firm has continued to fight the rulings, claiming that Chaiyo Productions used fake documents as evidence to win the rights. Tsuburaya Productions also claims that Chaiyo Productions deliberately violated Ultraman copyrights by reproducing the character without permission.


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