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  ผู้ชมทั่วไป alek Story

  โพสต์เมื่อ : 1 ธ.ค. 2550 17:44 น.

Ultraman Court Battle Proves to be Harder than Fighting Monsters!
Author: Bob Johnson

Former Tsuburaya Productions President, Noboru Tsuburaya. © 2004 Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd.
There has been much Internet buzz recently based on a court case going on both in Japan and Thailand. There have also been many reports in the Thai press. The case concerns something that is very important to many fans around the world, the fate of one of Japan's most recognizable icons, Ultraman.

On one side is Tsuburaya Productions, the company that created Ultraman and, for almost forty years, has produced television series and movies based on the character. The opposition is Thai filmmaker/businessman Sompote Saenguduenchai, owner of Chaiyo Productions, which also refers to itself as "Tsuburaya Chaiyo". Both sides have their own versions of the story and the outcome of the courts' decision so far. Sampote Thianthong of Pro Link of Thailand has been appointed Tsuburaya Productions' official agent and has been explaining the story to the Thai media for some time now.

The story began back in 1996, literally weeks after the death of Tsuburaya Productions' then president, Noboru Tsuburaya. Mr. Sompote approached Noboru's son Kazuo Tsuburaya, who had just been named CEO of the Tokyo-based company. Mr. Sompote presented him with a letter, allegedly issued and signed by his father in 1976, granting Mr. Sompote the international copyright to all Ultraman characters from the series ULTRA Q through ULTRAMAN TARO and another character, JUMBORG ACE.

Sompote shows Eiji Tsuburaya his book of Buddah Shrines. © 2003 Chaiyo Productions
When he presented this contract to Tsuburaya Productions in 1996, TPC considered it a forgery. In the very first line of the document, Tsuburaya Productions Co, ltd. is listed as "Tsuburaya prod. and Enterprise", a name it has never done business under. The fact that "productions" was abbreviated and rendered with a lower case "p", was a mistake that no one at Tsuburaya Productions would have let a document go out with. As the contract went on, some of the shows that it listed were under the wrong titles. ULTRA Q is listed as "Ultraman 1: Ultra Q" and ULTRA SEVEN is called "Ultraman Seven".

One question that immediately comes to mind is why Mr. Sompote waited over twenty years to come forth with his claim. There were ads in Variety and other media and industry publications by Tsuburaya attempting to sell these series to overseas markets. Not to mention the fact that some of these series also were running in overseas markets (including ULTRAMAN and ULTRA SEVEN in the US) during this time. Why didn't Mr. Sompote complain about violations of his rights when these were running? Obviously, in 1996, the one person who could have disputed his claims was deceased and unable to defend his company's rights.

Chaiyo Productions President Sompote Saenguduenchai. © 2003 Chaiyo Productions
Mr. Sompote also claims to have played a major part in the creation of Ultraman. As proof, he has presented a photo of himself showing Eiji Tsuburaya a book of photos of various Buddha shrines that he maintains look like Ultraman. However, there is no other evidence to support this claim. Mr. Sompote was a friend of Eiji Tsuburaya's and would occasionally visit him at the studios. This is apparently the extent of their relationship.

Tsuburaya Productions dismissed the contract, but out of respect for its founder Eiji Tsuburaya's friendship with Mr. Sompote, they granted him merchandising rights for Thailand and five other Asian countries. He accepted this, but claimed that Tsuburaya Productions had damaged his reputation in Thailand by disputing his contract. He asked the company to issue a letter to clear his name. He specifically stated that this letter must contain references to his alleged contract because he had already told his business associates about it. TPC reluctantly agreed and issued the letter under the intent that it would only be used in Thai business circles. The letter was not intended to be a binding legal document or to validate Sompote's "contract". This letter is now being used as evidence to support his claims that the original contract was valid.

Tsuburaya has brought the case to court. The first was in the Thai Intellectual Property and International Trade (IPIT) court. There were two more court cases at the Tokyo District Court and Tokyo High Court. All three courts ruled that TPC retained the copyright to Ultraman, the character they created. However, they ruled that Mr. Somopote would retain merchandising rights outside of Japan. Tsuburaya is contesting this and the case will be handed over to the Japanese Supreme Court later this year.

Pictures of Buddah Shrines from Sompote's photo book that Chaiyo claims inspired Ultraman. © 2003 Chaiyo Productions
At no time was Tsuburaya Productions in a position to lose the copyrights to their characters, nor are they now. If Chaiyo retains their claim to the merchandising and distribution rights to overseas markets, what would this mean to the US, where ULTRAMAN TIGA is now being distributed? Some are wrongly speculating that it might loosen up the rights for the original ULTRAMAN to finally be released here in North America. However, Tsuburaya Productions still holds on to the original materials including negatives, English language soundtrack and all prints of the series, so anything Chaiyo could sell over here would be of dubious quality at best. Tsuburaya could still license the shows in the US, but most likely would avoid doing so until the final judgement is made by the Supreme Court. So, either way, for the time being, the fans lose.

Hopefully things can be resolved smoothly in the Supreme Court. Keep watching Henshin! Online as details unfold!

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