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Retro Game Releases Could Get Needed Copyright Help In Japan

Old anime, TV and movies could also benefit from a proposed new system

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Retro game re-release could get a boost.
Retro game re-release could get a boost.
Photo: TENGKU BAHAR/AFP via Getty Images (Getty Images)

Japanese copyright law can make re-releasing some old games difficult, if not impossible. A new copyright system could change that.

According to Game Spark and Yomiuri Shimbun, a new copyright system has been proposed in Japan for works where the copyright holder is unclear, where a central organization would be responsible for the rights. The plan would reportedly be a practical safeguard.

The proposed system would encompass copyright for old movies, TV shows, video games, and more. The government’s idea is that the system would make it easier to distribute retro content, which can often be tricky in Japan.

As Twitter user GSK explains, “A recent example of this issue was Star Cruiser MD, which had to be left off the Mega Drive Mini due to ambiguity about precisely who could permit a reissue.” Another example, GSK added, was Vic Tokai’s catalogue. “Apparently the current corporate successor to Vic okayed their inclusion for MD Mini but Sega wasn’t confident they were in clear possession of those rights, so they refrained from moving forward.”

The plan does have some serious backing: It was a part of the Intellectual Property Promotion Plan 2021, from a group headed by Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga.

The way it would work is that a central organization would manage the copyright as well as the fees for licensing. The organization in charge has yet to be named.

Yomiuri Shimbun explains that under the current system, it’s necessary to get permission for all copyrighted content. The difficulty can be when the copyright holder is unknown or deceased—or, even just finding a way to get in touch with the copyright holder. Currently in those circumstances it can be impossible to license the content. The new system would streamline the process, and a fee would be paid to the new management organization.

According to Yomiuri Shimbun, it’s also not yet known what what would be done with the aforementioned fee.