This story has taken a sharp turn four years after it began.
On 16 December 2015, a federal jury indicted cartoonist and screenwriter Jayme Gordon51-year-old resident of Randolph, Massachusetts, with seven counts of wire fraud and perjury stemming from a plagiarism lawsuit filed against DreamWorks Animation in February 2011.
What began as one of many copyright lawsuits could end with Gordon serving 25 years in prison for attempted fraud.
The cartoonist was eventually sentenced to two years in prison and ordered to pay three million dollars in damages to DreamWorks.
View Gordon’s lawsuit (2011) against DreamWorks (PDF)
In his lawsuit, Gordon accused DreamWorks of plagiarising his designs and basing his June 2008 film Kung Fu Panda on characters he claimed to have created and drawn between 1990 and 2000 and copyrighted in 2000 and beyond.
Some of the sketches Gordon attached to his lawsuit
In the lawsuit, among other things, he claims that in 1999 he made contact with a DreamWorks employee to whom he even mailed a package containing a selection of his illustrations, including his “Kung Fu Panda Power Work” characters. He claims that the company acknowledged receipt of the package containing his works, rejecting them, in a letter dated 15 October 1999.
Jayme Gordon also claims that in 1999 he set up a website, www.luckylizard.com, on which he claims he showed these drawings, including a selection of characters and stories from his “Kung Fu Panda Power Work” and that later on his website www.jaymegordon.com, he also published between 1999 and 2000 parts of his “Kung Fu Panda Power Work”.
In July 2011, Gordon’s lawyers sent an email to DreamWorks’ lawyer, offering him a deal, settling for $12.5 million as a percentage of the exploitation rights to the film. One of Gordon’s “experts” went so far as to claim that the plaintiff had suffered more than $150 million in damages.
Statement/response of 15 November 2011 (PDF)
But in 2013, after the first hearing, Gordon suddenly withdrew the lawsuit after DreamWorks’ lawyers proved that he had copied his characters from a 1996 Disney Lion King colouring book.
Left Disney illustration from 1996, right drawings registered by Gordon in 2000
The first image in each row (1996) is by Disney, the others by Gordon.
DreamWorks’ research showed that Gordon’s illustrations, dated 1993 and 1994, were copied from a Disney colouring book that was not published until 1996. DreamWorks concluded that Gordon had lied about the dates and backdated them in an attempt to bolster his copyright claim.
Minutes of 28 March 2013 (PDF)
In 1999 and 2000, Gordon registered hundreds of pages with the Copyright Office, including a series of drawings and stories called Panda Power, the characters of which included a giant panda bear named “Kid”, and a little red panda named “Red”. The documents submitted for registration described Kid as “serious, mature, and a sort of “big brother” to Red, whom he depicted as “playful, mischievous and immature”.
According to the indictment, Gordon saw a trailer for “Kung Fu Panda” in early 2008 and reworked his designs to match those of DreamWorks. He also took the opportunity to rebrand his “Panda Power” drawings as “Kung Fu Panda Power” at the Copyright Office in May 2008, just one month before the release of the DreamWorks animated film.
The Cybercrime Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston will now prosecute Gordon, alleging that when his lawyers sent four emails on his behalf in connection with the lawsuit, including a proposed settlement offer, Gordon committed perjury. He is also accused of destroying evidence on his computer.
For the wire fraud and perjury charges, Gordon faces up to 25 years in prison, six years of supervised release and a fine of up to $500,000, plus restitution to DreamWorks, which has already spent nearly $3 million in the process.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Adam Bookbinder and Amy Harman Burkart of the Carmen M. Ortiz Cybercrime Unit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.
The Boston Cybercrime Unit is known for its aggressive prosecution of alleged violations of U.S. intellectual property laws and prosecuted activist and programmer Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit and Demand Progress who committed suicide in 2013 after prosecutors rejected a settlement offer made by Swartz.
This is not the first time someone has claimed ownership of the rights to Kung Fu Panda and sued DreamWorks. In June 2010, Terence Dunn, a Chinese-American, in a complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court, claimed that he had written the story of the film in 2001 with the same characters and story. He was unable to prove the alleged plagiarism and DreamWorks won the lawsuit.
Related, 50 cases in other countries.