The Macross Ruling

by Jonathan Mays, Jan 21st 2003
Monday's ruling in favor of Tatsunoko Productions, originally considered a serious legal blow to Studio Nue, may in fact have little impact on the status of Macross in Japan or internationally. Although details are still incomplete, ANN will attempt to provide a comprehensive analysis of the decision.

Perhaps the most significant question--that of derivative and merchandising rights--remains unanswered. The rights to Macross II, Macross Plus, "Do You Remember Love?" Movie, and other spin-off animation, as well as related merchandise, were not addressed by this ruling. The status of international merchandise also remains unclear. Furthermore, the merchandising rights of Bandai, Yamato/Sunwards, and Hasegawa were not mentioned. This court decision regards domestic copyright only; it is not believed that international copyright was ever in question. As a district court case, this verdict may (and likely will) be appealed twice.

It should be stressed that Big West remains the legal copyright holder of the SDF Macross design elements, including characters and mecha. At this time, it is believed that Big West may continue to produce Macross shows using those and inspired designs without interference from Tatsunoko. This earlier ruling has already been appealed--unsuccessfully--by Tatsunoko.

Noboru Ishiguro, series director, was not a member of either Big West or Studio Nue's staff, and production was completed primarily by Tatsunoko. Under Chapter 2, Section 2, Article 16 of the Japanese copyright law, Tatsunoko is granted copyright by default. However, Big West may claim in appeal that direction of the Macross series was also headed by Shoji Kawamori--who works for Studio Nue--and as such would take precedence over the animators. It is not known if any Tatsunoko personnel were involved in story direction.

Few have argued that Tatsunoko Productions did not have the rights to the original "Superdimensional Fortress Macross" television animation because it had been confirmed that they aided both in funding and production. As a result, this court ruling confirms that Tatsunoko was within its rights to license the series to Harmony Gold for distibution in the United States.

The ruling's impact on the US market is expected to be minimal if any; in Japan, the production of several SDF Macross-inspired models may be delayed or canceled, but no further immediate repercussions are anticipated. The rights to Macross spin-off series and merchandise will remain in question until Big West or Tatsunoko proceeds with further litigation or an international distributor (other than Harmony Gold) attempts to license other Macross products.

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