Producers' appeal nixed by Supreme Court

TOKYO — Japan’s Supreme Court has nixed an appeal by two producers of DVDs accused of violating copyrights.

The DVDs in question are 12 titles from Akira Kurosawa and nine from Charlie Chaplin, all released before 1952.

The companies making the DVDs claimed that the copyrights for the pics had expired under the copyright law in effect until 1970, which provided protection for 33 years after the original release.

In 1971, however, the law was amended to extend copyright protection to 50 years post release.

The court ruled on Thursday that the pics fell under a provision of the older law that protected pics released under the primary creator’s own name for 38 years after their deaths. 

Since Kurosawa died in 1998, his pics are protected until 2036. Seven of the nine pics by Chaplin, who died in 1977, are protected until 2015. The remaining two are covered by the newer law, which extends protection even further.

The plaintiffs make and sell cheap DVDs of classic pics in outlets throughout Japan, including train stations and bookstores.  

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

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