In news that prompted a collective sigh of relief across the worldwide fan community this week, Tsuburaya Productions scored a major victory in its ongoing legal conflict with Thai company Chaiyo Productions as a jury ruled against Chaiyo collaborator UM Corporation over licensing rights to the popular Ultraman superhero franchise.
A ruling years in the making, this marks one of several instances in an escalating battle the Ultraman creators and sole original owners at Tsuburaya have been fighting for decades, dating as far back as 1996. As previously stated, Chaiyo Productions head Sompote Saengduenchai claimed a relative of Ultraman creator Eiji Tsuburaya had signed a legal document bestowing licensing rights for the Ultra brand beyond Japanese shores to him, though this was widely contested due to an extensive list of errors and unusual conditions to the story bizarre enough to suit a movie all on their own.
SciFiJapan relays some key points that set off alarms in the case concerning what dubs itself a “License Granting Agreement” between Saengduenchai and the Tsuburaya head’s son, Noboru. A document that is dated and reportedly signed March 4, 1967, a whopping twenty years before its existence was widely noted, only after Noboru Tsuburaya’s death.
The suspiciously brief and imprecise phrasing in the document grants broad licensing powers to Chaiyo for the Ultraman banner, including toys and other merchandise, with which the company has produced its own original characters, films, and television projects with various collaborative agencies. Among these titles, only a portion have ever seen daylight as Tsuburaya vigorously contested these claims on their property every step of the way.
With the November 20, 2017 ruling by Judge Andre Birotte Jr in Los Angeles, Tsuburaya Pro has won a solid victory against those who sought to use their prized brand without permission or approval outside of Japan.
It represents a ray of hope for those who, only a few months ago, were subjected to the bizarre use of the fan-favorite character in China’s CG animated feature Dragon Force: So Long, Ultraman, an unauthorized and highly criticized inclusion of the Ultra name into a separate existing franchise that, up until this point, had little international recognition and seemed to spell doom for the Tsuburaya property in international hands.
Now, fans are beginning to sing a different tune, encouraged by this latest instance, and the unanimous jury ruling that found the so-called agreement “not authentic” as it is “not signed by Noboru Tsuburaya”.
Though it remains to be seen if this will be just the next in a much longer surge of notable legal tribulations, it serves as a beacon toward a better future for the House that Ultraman Built. An encouraging step toward recapturing what had been lost, so that Ultraman and all that represents him, at long last, can return to the Land of Light.
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