by Chris MaGee
You don't want to mess with the estate of Akira Kurosawa and you certainly don't want to mess with Toho Studios. The latter just won a lawsuit against Cosmo Coordinate, a Tokyo-based DVD distributor who had illegally released eight Akira Kurosawa classics after claiming they fell within the public domain. The only problem was they were using creative math and out-dated Japanese copyright law to come to that conclusion.
Acording to Cosmo their releases of such films as "Stray Dog" (above), "Ikiru" and "Sanjuro" were totally legit because Japanese copyright law dictates that a work falls into the public domain 33 years after its release. Well, it doesn't really. Japanese copyright law was revised in 1971 and clearly states that the rights to a work extend 38 years after the creator's death, which seeing that Kurosawa passed away in 1998 would mean all of his films are protected by law until 2036.
Too bad Cosmo Coordinate. The company ended up paying Toho $78,127 in damages, which was a bit of a bargain considering that they were originally looking to sue for $1.3 million.
Thanks to Mark Schilling at Variety for the details on this story.