Jayme Gordon, an artist who claimed he was the creator of the smash cartoon character Kung Fu Panda and whose lawsuit against the DreamWorks studio had made a rare advance toward trial, has gotten an unusual legal comeuppance.
The courts have booted his litigation. And prosecutors have kicked Gordon into the can, with a judge recently sentencing him to two years in prison for fraud.
Did Grand Master Oogway and Master Shifu magically materialize out of the movie and into real life to reverse the fortunes of Gordon, who actually had gotten the wealthy and powerful Jeffrey Katzenberg in a deposition? What mysteries did criminal sleuths unwind?
A legal growl
In 2000, Gordon filed tons of materials with the U.S .Copyright office, seeking protections including for two characters that were giant pandas. In February, 2011, the artist followed on his legal course by suing DreamWorks asserting the studio had stolen his idea for adorable ursines, tapping it to create the Kung Fu Panda—a cinematic powerhouse with a global box office haul exceeding $600 billion.
Gordon and his lawyer offered to settle for $12 million and half a percent in royalties for all future sales revenues.
It also seemed that the artist’s suit would be among the rare infringement cases to see the inside of a courtroom. Team Gordon got Katzenberg deposed, based on the seasoned cartoonist’s claim that he had sent the studio mogul his Panda Power materials. Gordon’s case survived the studio’s demand for summary judgment, and the case seemed headed to trial.
And, all of a sudden, Gordon backed off. He dropped his suit, in a move that not only made Entertainment Law counsel but also prosecutors go, hmm.
The judge, in dismissing the summary judgment motioned, had taken note that Gordon had shredded and generally destroyed a chunk of the disputed, original materials but still found this odd conduct was insufficient to warrant dismissal of the case.
Gordon had said in a sworn statement for his suit that when he saw a 2008 trailer promoting Kung Fu Panda, he took all of his “Panda Power” materials and compiled them into a work he titled, “Book of P.U.” He claimed he then shredded all preexisting materials. He used his book for his copyright registrations. When later questioned about his reducing so much of his materials to bumpf, he said in his sworn statement that, “I make a practice to shred everything. If I make a new book, I shred the old stuff.”
That not only seemed an odd thing to claim in a civil case, a grand jury also deemed it a key element for an indictment. Grand jurors examined evidence and decided that Gordon had glimpsed DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda trailer in 2008, then altered his panda power drawings and copyright registration before the movie was released so he could sue the studio and seek a settlement.
Alas, DreamWorks called his bluff. And a criminal house fell on the Bostonian.
As Carmen M. Ortiz, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, stated, “Our intellectual property laws are designed to protect creative artists, not defraud them. The misuse of civil litigation as part of a fraud scheme, and lying under oath, as alleged in this case, warp our federal judicial system and must be addressed with appropriate criminal sanctions.”
Besides time in the slam, Gordon, the court has decided, must pay $3 million in damages