Kurosawa DVDs halted for sales, production

In two separate cases, Tokyo District Court on Friday ordered a DVD maker to cease production and sales of DVDs of 10 pics by Akira Kurosawa.

The cease-and-desist suits were filed by Toho, which owns rights to eight pics Kurosawa made between 1943 and 1952, and Kadokawa Pictures, which holds rights to two pics made between 1949 and 1950.  The defendant, Cosmo Coordinate, was selling DVDs of the pics for 1,000 yen ($8.70) per unit — and claiming that it was entitled to do so under Japan’s copyright laws.

According to the copyright law in effect until 1970, copyright protection is extended until 38 years after the original copyright holder’s death. In 1971, however, the law was changed to extend copyright protection until 50 years and, later, 70 years after a work’s release.

Toho and Kadokawa argued that the older law should apply to pics released before the law was changed, 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 and that protection of the pics should therefore extend to 2036.

The ruling could have a large impact on the video software biz in Japan, which has been operating on the assumption that the date of release, not the death of the pic’s helmer, should define the limit of copyright protection.

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