Copyright case

Michael Raine mjraine at
Sun Jul 16 16:46:35 EDT 2006

Not a lawyer, etc, but ... This is interesting because I think the US
copyright extension law put works back under copyright that had already
fallen out. It seems the Japanese law didn't do that. Also, I'm pretty sure
that US copyright law protects a specific version of the film, so a studio
that authorizes a video release of a film claims copyright of that video
data from the time it was released. So it wouldn't be legal to duplicate a
video of a film that was now in the public domain, only a print of the film
that was older than the length of copyright. That would put real
restrictions on what films could be released, since the previous copyright
holders (and archives that hold material with the previous copyright
holders' approval) still control most prints. I wonder how that works in
Japan. Also, I'm not sure what is the status of a print made less than 70
years ago from a negative exposed more than 70 years ago... 

Finally, what do people think are the legal, cultural, economic, and ethical
consequences of adding subtitles to unsubtitled DVDs of Japanese films that
are clearly still under copyright and selling them as if they've been


PS: anecdotally ... I once wanted a black and white photocopy of the cover
from Ishihara Yujiro's first LP records but was refused permission by the
National Diet Library on the grounds that there was a "copyright problem."
On the way home, I bought a double CD of Beatles songs for less than 1,000

-----Original Message-----
From: Aaron Gerow [mailto:aaron.gerow at] 
Sent: Friday, July 14, 2006 8:35 PM
To: KineJapan
Subject: Copyright case

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

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 domain.

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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