(Edited, for some friends want their names removed so no harm is done) Guys, I am a big Ultra-fan, but this is too good to be true. The first 6 Ultra Series are currently in some major legal entanglements, as I'll discuss below. Here are the facts . . . TSUBURAYA PRODUCTIONS VS. CHAIYO PRODUCTIONS Author: Bob Johnson 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. 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. 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 film student living in Japan and visited Eiji Tsuburaya's at Toho Studios. This was 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. 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 judgment is made by the Supreme Court. So, either way, for the time being, the fans lose. (Originally appeared on Henshin! Online in 2004) Addendum Chaiyo's "rights" do not include broadcast, cable/satellite nor home video rights outside of Thailand. Tsuburaya Productions already has many legitimate licensees in around the world, including Asia, which would be affected by Chaiyo being able to lay claim to these shows -- and five years on, companies like MediaLink International are still distributing licensed Ultraman on television, cable and video in Hong Kong, Macau and other territories. Chaiyo has no real right to peddle these series outside of Thailand, and even the licensing and Thai rights were ill gotten. The picture is not simply limited to Chaiyo and Tsuburaya Productions -- Ultraman has enjoyed great success for decades around the world, and Chaiyo only decided to stake a claim (one of them was that it was they who created Ultraman) after the death of CEO Noboru Tsuburaya. That was the first warning flag... Tokyo Superior Court denied Chaiyo's claim as creator of Ultraman and all intellectual property rights they were seeking (and forbids them from creating new characters); the court denied Chaiyo's claim to all international copyrights; the court denied Chaiyo's international distribution of the shows in question to cable, television and home video; etc. But, the court did award them complete control of the rights within Thailand and the international rights to ancillary merchandising, excluding Japan. This is only because the "contract" in question carried Noboru Tsuburaya's Hanko (Japanese signature stamp), which is an antiquated system of signature that can easily be forged -- the document did not have the late Tsuburaya's actual hand-written signature. If this case was tried in US courts, Chaiyo would have lost long ago. But, the bottom line is that Chaiyo cannot distribute, license, sell or trade television, cable/satellite or home video rights to ULTRA Q, ULTRAMAN, ULTRA SEVEN, RETURN OF ULTRAMAN, ULTRAMAN ACE, ULTRAMAN TARO and JUMBORG ACE, outside of Thailand. In a nutshell, that is the ruling, according to the Tokyo Superior Court. Unfortunately, because of Chaiyo's international rights to ancillary merchandising, it's possible that Chaiyo would try to block any legitimate release that Tsuburaya Productions would try to license in a territory such as North America. Not that they would win, but it would be another long court case... and would scare away any DVD label; it's a classic case of Catch-22. Incidentally, Tsuburaya Productions and Chaiyo Productions only officially worked together co-producing two movies in 1974, The 6 Ultra Brothers Vs. The Monster Army (which I saw the Thai version of, BTW, and is the worst Ultraman movie ever) and Jumborg Ace & Giant. That was it! If you want an idea of how shady Chaiyo is, they asked Toei for permission to do a Kamen (Masked) Rider movie. Toei refused, so Chaiyo went behind their backs and produced one anyway (Hanuman and the 5 Riders, which was absolutely awful, even worse than The 6 Ultra Brothers Vs. the Monster Army!). Tsuburaya didn't know how unfortunate it would become. More to the point, close contacts with Tsuburaya Productions including Bob Johnson and Keith Aiken, (who have also followed the court case in the Japanese media), have contacted TPC, who said that they have not licensed the original Ultraman series to any company in the US. Then, James Ballard of TokyoMonsters.com contacted BCI, who sent back this response: Dear Mr. Ballard, I understand and appreciate your opinion regarding the situation. We did license the title through someone dealing with Chaiyo directly. We went to Tsuburaya first. They told our agent that they did not have rights for the U.S. to grant us and that is how our agent ended up finding Chaiyo. Many people are misinformed about the rights. We have read the court documents from Japan and it shows that Chaiyo does indeed have the U.S. home video and merchandising rights. We would have preferred working with Tsuburaya and that is who we approached first. It would certainly make creating the DVDs easier as we’d have a lot more access to materials. I hope you will reconsider your position of not supporting the release. It’s certainly better than all the people that sell bootlegs on the internet. This is the official U.S. release. You might not agree with the company that won the rights but according to court records, they do own the rights. It is an unfortunate situation. I am a long time fan of the show and I grew up watching it. So, I wanted to release one of my favorite shows on DVD and we went through a lot of work to find it. We are a public company and would not do anything that would jeopardize our parent company. We did all the research to insure that we would be releasing the legal version of the show. Best regards, Cliff MacMillan Director of Acquisitions BCI Eclipse But as I stated above, Tsuburaya has not licensed the original series to anyone! They will not do so until the legal entanglements are cleared and Chaiyo is out of the picture. BCI was most probably eager to hurry up and bring the series here, but their acquisition is just a sham (they dealt with a third-party source involved with Chaiyo, which loves to spin-doctor the whole case in the most outrageous way possible), and they're only going to be dragged into this legal entanglement. If they get in trouble, they'd better NOT blame Tsuburaya, Chaiyo is to blame. They are determined to try to put Tsuburaya out of business and steal Ultraman from them. I hope Tsuburaya is able to foil this DVD release. Because if it does come out, I will NOT buy it. Period. I will not buy any Ultra items connected with Chaiyo. I'm sorry, but I just can't let this pass. I just wanted to let you all know about this, because I have a great amount of respect for the Tsuburaya family (Eiji's classic work at Toho goes without saying), and they have produced more than 40 years worth of quality entertainment. Their recent Ultra Series (Ultraman Nexus and the current Ultraman Max) and movies (Ultraman the Next) are top-notch sci-fi/superhero/monster FX entertainment (and Panasonic's Region 2 DVD releases of the classic Ultra Series are of mind-blowing quality!). But Tsuburaya can't bring them here because of these legal entanglements (and, as a result, they hold on to all the original materials). I don't want Chaiyo to take their legacy away from them in the most unfair way possible.