In December, Tatsunoko announced that they settled both lawsuits with American licensing firm Speed Racer Enterprises. Both lawsuits were settled by mutual agreement, and ruled that the Speed Racer Enterprises’s license for the Mach Go Go Go franchise expired on May 31, 2011. Speed Racer Enterprises did indeed continue to exploit the license after this date, by sub-licensing the rights to the movie studio Lions Gate and Toonz Entertainment. As of December 6, 2013, the license fully reverted to Tatsunoko. Originally, Tatsunoko sought $1 million in damages for the unauthorized use of the license, but this was dropped in exchange for the admission of wrongdoing, and the immediate termination of business with Tatsunoko.
When news of the case first broke in October 2012, we looked into the chances of the suits getting any further than the mediation tables. There was too much mounting evidence against Speed Racer Enterprises, from the continued production of Speed Racer: The Next Generation episodes, to a website claiming ownership of the property being up online at the time of the article. At the same time, Speed Racer Enterprises was taking in profits from the shows, the film, and various other media that violated the license agreement.
Personally, I can’t help but find some interest in the settlement itself. Speed Racer, like Macross, seemed like one of those properties that would be held by a company until the end of time. It was bound by an old licensing agreement for terms that would be seen as utterly <em>ludicrous</em> in today’s market. Because of this, many took it as a universal constant that the title would be locked into a vicious cycle of American adaptations and spin-offs designed to squeeze as much nostalgia-based profit as possible. And, because of this, the reversion of the license feels more like a strange liberation than the normal bad end to a contract.
With Tatsunoko’s reclamation of the license, the company is free to option both Speed Racer and Mach Go Go Go! to potential licensees. Depending on the cost of the license and the nature of the buyer, I wouldn’t be surprised if both licenses were snatched up fairly quickly. I’d be even less surprised if, say, Speed Racer went to one organization, while the original Mach Go Go Go! was licensed to a smaller distributor. There are vastly different markets interested in both properties, which could prove fairly lucrative, if handled correctly. Speed Racer is a brand with incredible capital in the west, still, and it can definitely resonate with older audiences that trend outside of the anime fan core.
At this point, it remains to be seen as to just how Tatsunoko will handle the property going forward. With a powerful brand at their disposal, there is little doubt that the company will be courted by companies both within and outside of the anime industry. Because of this, we may be in for a number of surprises as to whose hands the properties will land in. One thing is for sure, though: Until the ink is dry and the final announcements are made, we can’t be sure of what is going to happen with Tatsunoko and Speed Racer as a whole.