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Ultraman producers win US copyright suit; hero set to fell monsters overseas

Ultraman (Photo courtesy of Tsuburaya Productions Co.)

TOKYO -- Japan's Tsuburaya Productions Co. is gearing up to expand its Ultraman franchise overseas following a U.S. district court ruling that an agreement giving a Thai businessman overseas rights was not authentic, the company announced on April 26.

Tsuburaya Productions, located in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, was in a heated copyright lawsuit with production company UM Corp. According to Tsuburaya Productions, the suit concerned a license agreement for the overseas use of the Ultraman series negotiated in 1976 between then company president Noboru Tsuburaya, now deceased, and a Thai businessman.

UM Corp. said it had inherited the rights to use Ultraman from the Thai man and launched a lawsuit against Tsuburaya Productions in California in May 2015 for infringement on its right to use the work. Tsuburaya counter-sued, arguing that the contract in question was forged and seeking to have its copyright attribution confirmed.

In a ruling handed down on April 18, 2018, local time the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California certified that the license agreement was not in fact signed by Tsuburaya, and thus was not legally binding, among other matters.

The ruling marks the latest decision in a series of trials over the licensing rights contracts for Ultraman. Tsuburaya lost a domestic copyright suit in 2004 and a Chinese one in 2013. Akira Mori, manager of the company's business management division, praised the court's ruling:

"To have our company's claims recognized in a lawsuit in a U.S. court will have an impact on further legal proceeding," he said.

(Japanese original by Tomohiro Inoue, Cultural News Department)

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