Tuesday 22 February 2011

Kung Fu Fighting

On 16 February 2011, a copyright claim was filed in the US District Court of Massachusetts against DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc., DreamWorks Animation LLC, and Paramount Pictures, Corp in relation to the popular “Kung Fu Panda” animated movie.

The claim has been brought by a Massachusetts artist Jayme Gordon, who alleges that the movie is based on and copied from copyright works authored and owned by him, which are collectively titled the “Kung Fu Panda Power” works.

An example of the similarity between Gordon’s works and the characters in the Kung Fu Panda movie is given as follows:

The claim also provides a number of other images which are said to have been produced by Gordon back in the 1990s and certainly prior to the release of the film in 2008.

Indeed, some of the images were registered with the US Copyright Office in 2000.

It is claimed that long before the release of Defendants’ Kung Fu Panda film, Gordon routinely sent his works featuring his illustrated characters, including his Kung Fu Panda Power characters, to animation and film studios, television networks, book publishers, and other companies specialising in children’s animation and entertainment. Gordon is said to have sent promotional flyers and T-shirts displaying his characters, and copies of his illustrations and text to these companies for many years.

Furthermore, in addition to illustrating his original Kung Fu Panda Power characters, Gordon began writing stories, and synopses for an animated television series and an animated film involving these characters in or around 1992, which he continued to develop and evolve up through 2002.

In Gordon’s Kung Fu Panda Power work, there was a Kung Fu fighting giant panda who loved to eat Chinese food and his resulting rotund shape did not lend itself to Kung Fu fighting. Kidd’s companion was small red panda whose Kung Fu master skills belied his small size, and who always carried chopsticks. These characters were accompanied by and worked with a Kung Fu fighting super group known as the “Five Fists of Fury,” comprised of a monkey, tiger, crane, mantis and a venomless snake, who were supporting characters.

For those who have seen the movie [only as chaperone to their kids of course!], this is probably sounding quite familiar..... For those who are interested, the claim details all the alleged similarities between the storylines and characters’ images.

It is unsurprising, therefore, that Gordon believes that the Defendants either obtained copies of or saw his illustrations and stories comprising the Kung Fu Panda Power works and used these to create the Kung Fu Panda movie. He is claiming damages as well as an acknowledgment from the Defendants that he is the author and creator of the “Kung Fu Panda” film, as well as the forthcoming sequel to the film “Kung Fu Panda 2”, and all other works derivative thereto which have been released or authorised, and will be released or authorised, directly or indirectly, by Defendants.”

This is not, however, the first claim brought against DreamWorks in relation to this movie. Last year, another individual, Terence Dunn sued DreamWorks for $1 million, alleging that they stole the idea of a kung fu panda from him. All the information on that claim, and some, can be found here.

It remains to be seen how DreamWorks will respond. But with the Kung Fu Panda film and franchise having generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the Defendants and continuing to do so, and with the sequel to the film, Kung Fu Panda 2, scheduled for release in the US on 3 June 2011, there is definitely a lot to kung fu fight over.

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