News Flash: Jury Rules in Favor of Tsuburaya Pro in Ultraman Rights Lawsuit
Author: Richard Pusateri
A SCIFI JAPAN EXCLUSIVE
In the Matter of UM Corporation v. Tsuburaya Productions Co. Ltd., in Los Angeles Federal Court, at 11:30 am Monday, November 20, 2017, the eight jurors delivered a unanimous verdict in favor of Tsuburaya Productions. The jury determined the controversial 1976 “Agreement” (granting licensing rights for Ultraman material to Thai businessman Sompote Saengduenchai and Chaiyo Productions) to be “not authentic.” The jurors indicated they thought the document was “…not actually signed by Norobu Tsubaraya.”
After the case was declared closed by Judge André Birotte Jr., jurors were thanked by Judge Birotte and the lawyers for both sides. Some of the jurors explained to the lawyers what evidence and testimony influenced their decision.
This latest installment of the ongoing legal battle between UM Corporation (“UMC”) and Tsuburaya Productions Co., Ltd. (“TPC”) began in Los Angeles United States District Court presided by Judge Birotte in Courtroom 7B on Tuesday, November 7, 2017. UMC is a company that currently holds the contested rights to the Ultraman material from Sompote Saengduenchai. Sompote has claimed since 1996 that a document from 1976 gives him and his various companies, such as Chaiyo Film Corp. and representatives “an exclusive, perpetual license to all copyrights and trademarks in various Ultraman works in all countries outside Japan.“
While the current case was originally titled “UM Corporation v. Tsuburaya Productions Co. Ltd.” the legal action became a counter-suit with TPC suing UMC due to cease-and-desist notices filed earlier. The trial’s objectives go to the heart of the case; the validity of the original 1976 “Agreement.” The 1976 document appeared in 1996, after the death of alleged signatory Noboru Tsuburaya and twenty years of being unknown by almost everyone involved. Noboru Tsuburaya, son of special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya, was president of TPC from 1973 to his death in 1995.
The document, called a “License Granting Agreement” dated March 4, 1976, transfers rights to Sompote for international distribution, outside of Japan, of several Ultraman television series and movie content and derivative works, such as clothing, books, action figures, models, and other toys. The short document is a single page signed by Noboru Tsuburaya with a “hanko” seal or stamp. TPC has long contended the contract’s authenticity is suspicious because the signature is not actually Noboru Tsuburaya’s. The document’s text also contains many errors and omissions of details usually considered essential to a binding legal contract granting licensing rights. The original document’s current location is unknown.
Those anomalies led TPC to consider the document invalid and perhaps even a forgery.
Before the trial began, one of the issues the judge and lawyers had to agree on was the admissibility of a copy of Sompote’s passport. The copy of this document would indicate that Sompote was in Japan on March 4, 1976 when the document was dated. The issue rests on the court accepting a digital copy of the original document. The judge noted that such documents are easily altered or forged. As the pages stamped with locations and dates of entries and exits in question are separate images, it is not clear that the identifying page and subsequent stamped pages are all from the same passport. Judge Birotte said he would study the precedent of allowing copies of passports to be entered as evidence before making his decision.
Check back with SciFi Japan in the coming weeks for MUCH more coverage of this story, including an overview of the US trial plus a detailed history of the entire Tsuburaya Productions – Sompote Saengduenchai/Chaiyo Productions – UM Corporation dispute!