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Is Godzilla Public Domain

Is Godzilla Public Domain? (+ A Bit on Toho Films)

Joshua Julien Brouard

Joshua Julien Brouard

14 March 20243 min read

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Is Godzilla Public Domain? (+ A Bit on Toho Films)

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    The iconic figure of Godzilla, first introduced in Toho Co., Ltd.'s 1954 film, has long captivated audiences around the world.

    This immense popularity has sparked questions about Godzilla's copyright status and whether the character might be in the public domain.

    However, Godzilla remains under copyright, with nuances that merit exploration.

    The intricacies of Godzilla's copyright

    Toho Co., Ltd., the Japanese film company responsible for Godzilla's creation and the Godzilla franchise, actively maintains the copyrights and trademarks related to the character.

    Unlike some beliefs that Godzilla might be in the public domain, Toho's enforcement actions against unauthorized uses indicate strong copyright protection globally.

    Toho films: A giant in Japanese entertainment

    Established in 1932, Toho Co., Ltd. is a titan in the Japanese entertainment industry renowned for its significant role in film production, distribution, and exhibition.

    Toho's most famous creation, the original Godzilla film, introduced in 1954, stands as a cultural icon, symbolizing the studio's innovation in the kaiju (giant monster) genre.

    However, Toho's influence extends far beyond making Godzilla films.

    Over the decades, Toho has produced a wide array of films spanning various genres, including:

    • Dramas, 
    • Comedies, 
    • Action, 
    • And science fiction.

    They're known for their collaborations with legendary filmmakers like Akira Kurosawa, producing classics such as "Seven Samurai" and "Rashomon."

    These films not only garnered critical acclaim but also played a pivotal role in introducing Japanese cinema to the global audience.

    Apart from its cinematic ventures, Toho has been instrumental in the development of Japanese animation, working with Studio Ghibli and other animation studios.

    The company's role in theater production and real estate, including the iconic Toho Cinemas chain, further cements its status as a multifaceted entertainment powerhouse.

    Toho's ongoing commitment to creativity and quality continues to leave an indelible mark on the landscape of global cinema, making it a revered name in the industry.

    Watch the original trailer of Godzilla (1954) below! 

    A case of dubbing and public domain

    A notable exception in Godzilla's copyright saga is the English-dubbed version of "Godzilla vs. Megalon."

    Due to a missing copyright notice in the U.S. release, this specific dubbed version is in the public domain in the United States.

    However, the original Japanese version remains under copyright protection, illustrating the intricacies of copyright laws across different mediums and regions​​.

    Predicting Godzilla's entry into the public domain

    Estimates for when Godzilla might enter the public domain vary.

    For the original 1954 film, the U.S. could see it enter the public domain as early as 2049, but the date is later in Japan.

    These projections are subject to legal interpretation, considering the collaborative nature of Godzilla's creation and the lifespan of its creators​​​​.

    Looking to protect your own creative works? Do so online today with Copyrightable by Trademarkia. 

    Understanding the collaboration impact

    Godzilla's inception involved a team of contributors, and their collective involvement could potentially extend the copyright period.

    The debate over which contributors' lifespans should be considered – including producers, directors, suit actors, and others – adds layers to determining the exact year Godzilla might become public domain, potentially extending it well into the future​​.

    Trademark rights and future implications

    Even if specific versions of Godzilla enter the public domain, Toho's trademarks on the character could still restrict its use.

    These trademark rights are distinct from copyright and can continue to protect the character's use, adding another layer of complexity to the issue​​.

    The discussion is ongoing

    While the discussion around Godzilla's copyright status is nuanced and ongoing, it's clear that Godzilla is not in the public domain.

    The varying copyright terms across countries, the collaborative nature of Godzilla's creation, and Toho's active trademark rights all contribute to keeping the character under copyright protection.

    As laws evolve and new interpretations emerge, the future status of Godzilla's public domain entry remains a fascinating and evolving legal discussion.

    Learn more: Read our full guide on what constitutes copyright infringement


    Who currently owns the rights to Godzilla?

    Toho Co., Ltd., a Japanese film and production company, currently owns the rights to Godzilla. They have been the primary rights holder since the character's creation in 1954.

    Is the Godzilla character in the public domain?

    The Godzilla character is not in the public domain. Toho Co., Ltd. actively manages and enforces its copyright and trademark rights globally, and the character remains protected under these laws.

    Is the Godzilla theme public domain?

    The Godzilla theme is not in the public domain. Similar to the character, the music associated with Godzilla is subject to copyright laws and remains protected under the ownership of Toho Co., Ltd.

    Does Marvel have rights to Godzilla?

    Marvel Comics had the rights to Godzilla for a period during the late 1970s and early 1980s, during which they published a "Godzilla" comic book series. However, they no longer hold the rights to the Godzilla character.

    Does Universal have the rights to Godzilla?

    Universal Studios does not have rights to Godzilla. In recent years, the rights to the character for movies produced outside of Japan have primarily been with Legendary Pictures, as seen in their "MonsterVerse" series.

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    Joshua J. Brouard has a diverse background. He has studied bachelor of commerce with a major in law, completed SEO and digital marketing certifications, and has years of experience in content marketing. Skilled in a wide range of topics, he's a versatile and knowledgeable writer.