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Ultra Series/Chaiyo Licensing Dispute

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Tsuburaya Productions and Chaiyo Productions have long had a lasting legal battle over the rights to the distribution rights of the Ultra Series outside of Japan. Previously, Tsuburaya worked with Chaiyo on The 6 Ultra Brothers vs. the Monster Army and Jumborg Ace & Giant—the latter of which featured another Tsuburaya superhero, Jumborg Ace—in 1974.

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Sompote Saengduenchai, founder/president of Chaiyo Productions, claimed and maintained that in 1976, the late Noboru Tsuburaya, Eiji's son, who had died in 1995, had given him and his company a contract which had given him rights to everything Ultraman outside Japanese territories in exchange for a monetary loan.

In spite of the fact that the document failed to state clearly and specifically exactly what had been given to Tsuburaya in exchange for these rights, Japanese and Thai courts accepted this contract as real and binding because of the supposed hanko of the late Noboru Tsuburaya in the document. Tsuburaya Productions insisted and maintained that the contract was a forgery (due to factual errors, including the faulty titles of the series in the document, such as Ultra Q being called "Ultraman 1: Ultra Q," Ultra Seven being called "Ultraman 3: Ultraman Seven," and Tsuburaya Productions being called "Tsuburaya Prod. and Enterprises," (a name the company never did business under), and repeatedly contested the issue.

In the course of the legal battle, Sompote presented photos of himself sharing his photos of Thai Buddhist edifices stating that Eiji had based Ultraman's face on the said edifices, a claim which he has continued to hold since the dispute began. No other evidence supporting this claim was known to exist.

After an 8-year battle in the courts of both countries, Sompote Saengduenchai was awarded a favorable decision on April 27, 2004. The exact ruling fell into some dispute: Some said it only gave him merchandising rights for the first six Ultra Series (Ultra Q through Ultraman Taro) and Jumborg Ace outside Japan, and broadcasting rights of said shows within Thailand. Other accounts, usually reported in the Thai/Asian media, said that Chaiyo had gained the rights to those six shows everywhere outside Japan. The latter could be taken as Chaiyo's side of the story, as Tsuburaya was reported in the Japanese media to continue taking further action against them.

Tsuburaya decided not to market any of the disputed six Ultra Series outside Japan until it had completely settled the rights issues with Chaiyo, although the company continued to merchandise and distribute all of the Ultraman programs created after Ultraman Taro, including the theatrical feature Ultraman the Next, throughout the world. Because of the copyright struggle, importing literature on Ultraman into Singapore and Malaysia was prohibited. It also resulted in a slight backlash against Thai Ultraman fans, who were assumed to be outright Chaiyo supporters.

In 2005 the American company BCI Eclipse announced they had acquired the DVD rights to the original Ultraman from Chaiyo. A 3-disc box set containing the first 20 episodes of the series was released on July 18, 2006, and a second 3-disc box set containing the remaining 19 episodes was released on November 7, 2006. Both sets feature the original Japanese monaural dialogue track as well as the English-dubbed version produced by United Artists for North America in syndication. At certain times, the English dialogue track switched over to the Japanese dialogue for small periods of time. This was because BCI had used audio from older recordings in which several scenes had to be cut or shortened for the American broadcast in order to fit running time constraints. Tsuburaya Productions still held on to the complete original English dubbing materials, which they had obtained from a warehouse in 1997, and refused to provide them for BCI. (Contrary to BCI's statements, the original English dubs were complete and uncut, except for a small cut in the conclusion of Episode 36, "Gift From The Sky.")

Ultraman Millenium/Battle over the characterEdit

During the time of the legal battle, Chaiyo came up with three of their own Ultras: Ultraman Millennium, Dark Ultraman (an evil Ultra), and Ultraman Elite. These were not used for purposes other than stage shows and merchandise. Chaiyo also created a TV series he called "Project Ultraman," which remained un-aired, a joint project in China featuring his own Ultraman and attaching Hong Kong star, Ekin Cheng to the project.

On August 23, 2006, Tsuburaya Productions filed a new lawsuit against Chaiyo for copyright infringement and plagiarism (concerning their three original Ultraman characters), and the court case was taken to China. The Chinese courts in Beijing opened "The Ultraman Copyright Study Group" in response to the lawsuit.[1] In April 2007, the Thailand Intellectual Property Court ruled in favor of Tsuburaya Productions, ordering Chaiyo to cease and desist making commercial profits from Chaiyo-produced Ultraman characters such as Millennium, Dark, and Elite. The defendants were also fined THB 15,000,000 (approx. JPY 50,904,959 or USD 428,673.50 c. April 2007) plus interest and attorneys' fees.[2][3] "Project Ultraman" went on hiatus as a result of the ruling, which implied that although Chaiyo owned the right to some of the Ultraman series, it did not own the right to Ultraman and his brothers, including the design. Chaiyo gained permission to merchandise the original series, but lost the right to create and market its own Ultraman, or even use the original, without Tsuburaya consent.[Citation needed]

On February 5, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tsuburaya Productions of Japan after they made an appeal to the initial ruling. The ruling ended the long legal battle by finding Sompote Saengduenchai was not a co-creator of Ultraman. The decision ended Sompote's bid to continue his enterprise, and the court gave Sompote 30 days to stop profiteering from Ultraman. The final ruling saw Tsuburaya Productions as the sole copyright owner. Sompote was also required to pay THB 10,700,000 plus interest at the rate of 7.5 per cent a year starting from December 16, 1997, when the original lawsuit was filed. [4]

Chaiyo's ownership of the first six seriesEdit

Then in 2009, the Thai Intellectual Property Court and the Tokyo District Court both ruled in favour of the Thai company. This led to the Tokyo District Court on September 30, 2010, ordering Tsuburaya Productions Co of Japan to pay damages of 16.36 million yen (Bt5.9 million) to Sompote Saengduenchai of Thailand for violating his overseas copyrights on Ultraman characters.[5]

As a result, Chaiyo was able to market the first six entries in the Ultra Series outside Japan, making agreements with companies such as Mill Creek, through which they released Ultraman, and Shout! Factory, through which they released Ultra Q and Ultraseven.

Ultraman-Forever-main banner

Ultraman Forever.

In commemoration for Ultraman's 50th year anniversary in 2014, Chaiyo planned to release a 6-season boxset, more than 325 episodes, of the Ultraman series in the United States. The official site is now taking reservations. The boxset includes Ultraman (1966–1967), Ultra Seven (1967–1968), The Return of Ultraman / Ultraman Jack (1971–1972), Ultraman Ace (1972–1973), Ultraman Taro (1973–1974), and Ultraman Leo (1974–1975). So far, no release date and price had been announced as of writing. Other products listed on the official Ultraman Forever website are a 50th Anniversary Collector's Book, a collection of Classic Ultraman Action Posters, and a catalog of Tohl Narita's original Ultraman Art Collection.

Ultraman USA IncEdit

On May 10th, 2015, Chaiyo announced the formation of Ultraman USA Inc, releasing several Ultraman figures as well as planning BlueRay releases of the first six series. They also planned to make a new Ultraman movie[6] and a new television series.[7] Whether they have ownership of the character or not is up for debate, likely the reason for the UMC Corporation debacle.

Legal Battle with UMC CorporationEdit

In 2012, Chaiyo conferred legal rights to the first six ultra series to UMC Corporation. [8] In 2015, after UCM's affiliate Veranda Entertainment LLC attempted to upload episodes of Ultraman to Youtube, Tsuburaya had them taken down.

UMC then brought a lawsuit against Tsupro. for violation of the agreement previously decided on with Chaiyo, claiming rights to the first six series as well as to the character himself. They also attacked Tsuburaya for distributing series outside of Japan with ultras similar to the original, such as Tiga.[9]


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