TOKYO — Japan’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that copyright protection for Popeye is no longer valid, arguing the 50-year term of the protection had expired.
The top court overturned a 1992 lower court ruling which decided the 50-year copyright protection afforded under Japanese law began each time a cartoon character appeared in a new media.
The Supreme Court said the character of Popeye has not changed in 50 years, and therefore it is no longer protected under Japanese copyright law.
The judgment follows a series of disputes brought by foreign countries and interests against Japan’s copyright laws. Last year Japan’s law for music copyrights was brought before the World Trade Organization after countries such as the U.S. argued it was out of step with international standards.
The copyright suit for the pipe-smoking sailor man was brought by King Features Syndicate Inc. of New York against an Osaka company that used Popeye on neckties without permission of King Features.
Presiding judge Masao Fujii said in handing down the decision that the character of Popeye has not changed significantly in his appearance since the cartoon was first published in 1929, and therefore the 50 years of copyright protection had expired.
He did say Popeye was protected under trademark law, however, and ruled the Osaka company had no right to use the character because of trademark protection.