Copyright case

Aaron Gerow aaron.gerow at
Fri Jul 14 21:35:26 EDT 2006

There was an interesting decision in a copyright case in Japan this 
week. Paramount had sued a DVD maker who had been selling Roman Holiday 
for 500 yen. The maker argued that since that film was produced in 
1953, and since the amendment to the Copyright Law that extended the 
copyright protection for films from 50 to 70 years took effect on 
January 1, 2004, Roman Holiday's copyright had already expired before 
then and was now public domain. Paramount, which was marketing its own 
DVD of the film at nearly 5000 yen, argued that since 0:00 hours on 
January 1, 2004, is also 24:00 hours on December 31, 2003,the copyright 
for all films made in 1953 was still in effect and that the extension 
of copyright was  applicable to their film. In other words, they were 
arguing that time of day should be used to figure when copyright 
expires, while the DVD maker was saying it was simply a factor of the 
year. Paramount was emboldened by the fact that the Agency for Cultural 
Affairs had also given this interpretation, partially in the interest 
of protecting all those films made in 1953, including Ozu's Tokyo Story.

The Tokyo District Court, however, ruled that the interpretation given 
by Paramount and by the Agency for Cultural Affairs had no logical 
basis (atari mae!). The copyright for all films made in 1953 had thus 
expired before the amended law came into effect. The court reiterated 
that the amended copyright law only extended the copyright protection 
of films whose copyright was still in effect as of January 1, 2004. 
This means that not only Roman Holiday, but also Tokyo Story and all 
other films made in 1953 and before are legally public domain under 
Japanese law.

Paramount intends to appeal the ruling, so we will be hearing more 
about this later. But since the fight was generally over whether films 
from 1953 are still protected or not--not over whether the twenty year 
extension of the copyright period applies to films made from 1952 and 
before whose copyright had already expired--it seems fairly certain 
that unless there is a new law, everything from 1952 on back is public 

Aaron Gerow
Assistant Professor
Film Studies Program/East Asian Languages and Literatures
Yale University
53 Wall Street, Room 316
PO Box 208363
New Haven, CT 06520-8363
Phone: 1-203-432-7082
Fax: 1-203-432-6764
e-mail: aaron.gerow at

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