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DreamWorks Animation might need to brush up on its martial arts skills to fight the litigation surrounding its Kung Fu Panda franchise. The studio is being sued again, this time by a man who claims to have created the inspiration behind its animated hit, which grossed $632 million worldwide.
Represented by two high-caliber IP firms in Fish & Richardson and Duane Morris, an artist named Jayme Gordon yesterday filed a colorfully illustrated 28-page complaint in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, alleging that Dreamworks and distributor Paramount copied the film from Gordon’s copyrighted works, collectively titled “Kung Fu Panda Power.”
Gordon claims that the defendants took more than just the title of his work, but also featured animated characters that bore a striking similarity to the characters he drew in his own illustrations, which he says were registered with the U.S. Copyright Office in 2000.
The lawsuit comes as Dreamworks is battling another writer, Terence Dunn, who also claims to have pitched the story of a “spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear” to DWA execs during a series of phone conversations in Nov. 2001. Recently, Dunn won a small victory by getting his lawsuit to the discovery phase, where Dunn will attempt to gather internal DWA documents about boxoffice gross, DVD and merchandise revenue to help support the claims that the studio made millions from his ideas.
Now comes Gordon’s lawsuit. According to the complaint, in the late 1980s or early 1990s, Gordon submitted multiple packages to The Walt Disney Co. containing original illustrations and stories, including components of the Kung Fu Panda Power work. Gordon then visited “Pleasure Island,” a section of the Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida, where he met then-Disney chairman Michael Eisner and president Frank Wells. Gordon says he was invited to send his works to Disney, which he did. The complaint contains a photo of Gordon and Eisner together at a meeting.
At the time of the meeting, DreamWorks topper Jeffrey Katzenberg worked for Disney under Eisner. Katzenberg left Disney in 1994 and launched DreamWorks. Gordon says that in the late 1990’s he sent his illustrations to DreamWorks, where they were rejected with an acknowledgement of receipt.
Asserting copyright infringement, Gordon demands unspecified profits, statutory damages, and an acknowledgment of authorship on both Kung Fu Panda and its forthchoming sequel, scheduled for release in May.
DreamWorks declined to comment on the suit.
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