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Anger over trademarking of Touhou Project fanwork by 3rd party evolves into bomb scare

The creature Yukkuri, created by fans of the video game series Touhou Project, is seen in this screenshot taken from Touhou Danmaku Kagura's official YouTube channel.
This screenshot taken on May 15, 2022, shows the hashtag "Yuzuha o Yurusuna" (Don't forgive Yuzuha) trending on Twitter.

TOKYO -- Trademark registration of a widespread form of fanwork for the popular shooter video game series Touhou Project by a third-party YouTuber is causing an uproar, which has developed into a bomb threat against a party related to the matter.

    According to the party concerned, YouTuber Yuzuha had registered the trademark of "Yukkuri Chabangeki." Yukkuris are adorable creatures made by the Touhou fanbase, usually consisting of disembodied heads of various characters of Touhou Project, created by ZUN through videogame developer Team Shanghai Alice. Many videos on YouTube, Niconico and other platforms use the creatures along with text-to-speech technology for narration, and "Yukkuri Chabangeki" refers to ones that include "chabangeki," or comedy.

    On May 15, Yuzuha announced via Twitter they had acquired the trademark right and said, "In the future, if you want to use the trademark, you may need a license agreement." They initially explained in a YouTube video posted on the same day that people need to pay 100,000 yen (about $770) a year excluding tax to use the trademark, but tweeted on May 16, "From now on, users do not need to pay for a license agreement. However, the (trademark) rights remain with our company."

    According to a YouTube video posted on the channel of Touhou Danmaku Kagura, a smartphone game officially recognized by Touhou Project, the creatures originate from an image created using ASCII text characters which was later turned into an illustration by a separate individual. As of Oct. 8, 2020, Danmaku Kagura staff had confirmed with the ASCII art creator, the illustrator and ZUN that anyone can freely use Yukkuris.

    Due to such circumstances, many people posted criticism against Yuzuha such as, "Isn't what you're doing violating the (Touhou Project) fanwork guidelines?" After Yuzuha's announcement, the Kai Intellectual Property Law Office in the Chiba Prefecture city of Sakura, which applied for trademark registration on behalf of the YouTuber, was flooded with telephone calls and emails asking about the process of the application.

    On the early morning of May 16, a bomb threat by a person claiming to be involved in the matter was apparently sent to a web portal in the area in which the law office is located. The message reportedly said, "Multiple bombs have been placed there. They will explode around 3 p.m." This led to the temporary suspension of services on the Yamaman Yukarigaoka Line and the community Koala Bus from around 2 p.m. on the same day.

    The law office had received a request from Yuzuha in September 2021, and applied on their behalf. In response to the uproar, the law office on May 16 offered an apology on their website, saying, "We are sorry for the inconvenience caused by not knowing that the trademark is beloved by everyone."

    The term "Yukkuri Chabangeki" was trending on Twitter at one point, with many Touhou fans using the hashtag "Yuzuha o Yurusuna" (Don't forgive Yuzuha). A petition demanding the abandonment of the trademark was launched soon after the YouTuber's announcement on Change.org, and had collected signatures from more than 39,000 people as of 5:30 p.m. on May 17.

    Regarding the matter, ZUN on May 15 tweeted, "The subject of 'Yukkuri Chabangeki' caught my ears. I'll check it out with people familiar with the law."

    Dwango Co. Senior Managing Director COO Shigetaka Kurita also posted a tweet as the representative of Niconico on May 16, reading, "I had a meeting with Dwango's legal department about 'Yukkuri Chabangeki.' To take all possible measures, I will also consult with a law firm. I will give the official view of Niconico by Saturday, May 21, so that people can use Niconico with peace of mind, so please wait until then."

    (Japanese original by Digital News Center, and Rei Oikawa, The Mainichi Staff Writer)

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