Don’t test Tsuburaya Productions. The company that brought us the original giant hero Ultraman and some hundreds of hours of action with many entries in the ongoing Ultra Series that followed does not take kindly to people messing with their brand. And so, the long story of their battle over the international licensing rights to the Ultraman property gets another chapter, as Chinese company BlueArc is sued once more for what Tsuburaya calls an infringement of their copyright.
Tales of Tsuburaya’s cockroach-like legal troubles with entities like BlueArc and synonymous groups UM Corporation and Chaiyo Productions are well-documented, but the gist is that rights over the fan-favorite Ultra brand have been contested for decades, even since a claim was made that broad licensing powers were granted to Chaiyo head Sompote Saengduenchai after a rumored night of heavy drinking with the son of Eiji Tsuburaya, the famed Ultraman creator and founder of the company that brought his adventures to screen and stage. This hotly-disputed legal document became the source of much controversy as Chaiyo and its production partners began spinning new titles and products with the Ultraman name through the years until we finally arrive at China’s most recent attempt.
Suffice it to say, it was met with a less-than-pleasant reaction from some fans, and even participants in Tsuburaya’s own Ultraman franchise. One can scarcely forget when Tsuruno Takeshi, best known to fans as the title character in Ultraman Dyna (1997), employed the phrase “dirty villain” on Twitter to describe those who used the Ultraman image in unapproved projects.
We’re speaking, of course, of Dragon Force: So Long, Ultraman, the animated sequel to the original Dragon Force film, a story wholly unrelated to Ultraman which features a character resembling the iconic hero in an apparent antagonistic role. Tsuburaya Productions had categorically stated their disapproval of this production and that it does not in any way represent their brand. On this matter, the courts agreed. November 2017 saw the company score a solid victory against the mishandling of their intellectual property, setting what appeared to be a strong precedent.
Sadly, it seems, production company BlueArc has failed to read the room. The Guangzhou-based organization claimed that, because Tsuburaya had withdrawn their original lawsuit against them, despite having then won its recent dispute with UM Corporation in an LA court toward the tail end of this year, meant that Tsuburaya acknowledged BlueArc’s claim to the brand and that future business with Ultraman’s name and likeness was authorized. Tsuburaya spoke with Japanese news publication NHK to set the record straight, stating in no uncertain terms that they do not approve of these infringing actions and will respond to this threat to their company’s property with legal measures.
Though BlueArc, UM Corporation, and Chaiyo Productions are linked by the same contested licensing document that started Ultraman’s troubled international custody battle back in the mid-90s, it’s uncertain if this new lawsuit will ultimately end with the same result as Tsuburaya’s November win. But fans across the globe can hope that the Land of Light remains unspoiled so its heroes can fight another day.
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