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Intellectual Property High Court rules Kurosawa still under copyright

The copyright saga about Kurosawa’s pre-1952 movies seems to have come to an end yesterday with a Japanese Intellectual Property High Court ruling that establishes the Tokyo District Court’s September 2007 decision to be correct, and that Cosmo Coordinate has violated copyright when selling cheap prints of Kurosawa’s early movies.

When handing down the ruling, the preceding judge Nobuyoshi Tanaka is quoted as stressing that “the copyright over films is protected for 38 years from the year after the death of the director”.

Cosmo had earlier contested Toho’s copyright claim pointing out that based on a 1971 law change, Japanese copyright protects works only for 50 years after the release of the movie. The courts’ final decision, however, seems to be that copyright for movies made under the pre-1971 copyright law is calculated based on the old law, which extends copyright to 38 years after the creator’s death. Consequently, works Kurosawa directed before 1971 (all the way up to Dodesukaden) will be under Japanese copyright until 2036.

This would consequently appear to mean that the first Kurosawa film to come into public domain is Dersu Uzala, whose Japanese copyright should lapse in 2025, although I am not entirely sure how this works in this particular case since the film itself is Russian.

Moreover, would this also mean that all of Ozu and Mizoguchi is actually in public domain in Japan?

Source: Mainichi Daily News





Hi Vili, where did you get this info about how the two laws apply differently to films made before and after the law change in 1971? I couldn’t find it in the Mainichi article (at least in the English version). This would have a major impact on distribution of classical Japanese movies!



Klaus, you can read about this in the whole saga, on Variety.com:
Kurosawa films center of suit
Tokyo court clarifies copyright law
Toho sues Kurosawa DVD distrib
Toho files suit against Cosmo

There may be other, and more precise, sources of information in english, but I don’t know them.



Thanks a lot! 🙂


Vili Maunula

While I was offline for the weekend, Fabien pretty much answered the question.

But just keep two things in mind:

1) I am not sure if my interpretation of the situation has anything to do with reality (I know very little about law).

2) I have no idea how these laws apply outside of Japan.



Neither am I!

I just found the following part in one of the articles especially interesting:

while the defense argued that the production companies, not Kurosawa, were the true rights holders and that the newer, 50-year, rights protection should apply. Judge Masami Ichikawa ruled that Kurosawa, as the primary creator of the pics, was the original copyright holder

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