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Loeb & Loeb Secures Major Victory for DreamWorks in ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Copyright Infringement Suit

Loeb & Loeb LLP secured a significant victory on behalf of DreamWorks Animation (DWA) and Paramount Pictures in a copyright infringement suit involving the 2008 animated film Kung Fu Panda. The plaintiff, Jayme Gordon, who alleged that DWA used his original character sketches and stories as the basis for the 2008 film, dismissed his case with prejudice after the defense team uncovered a 1996 Disney coloring book that Gordon copied in order to create the panda artwork that was the basis for his lawsuit.

Gordon filed suit against DWA in February 2011, alleging that a cartoon property he created during the 1980s and early 1990s called “Kung Fu Panda Power” was strikingly similar to the characters and story in DWA’s Kung Fu Panda. Gordon filed copyright registrations for his panda works in 2000, 2008 and 2011, the latter two submitted after he learned about DWA’s film. The court excluded Gordon’s 2008 registration from the case following the plaintiff's acknowledgment that he created that registration after he knew about DWA’s film, and although Gordon claimed that his newly-registered 2008 artwork and stories were “based on pre-existing material,” he claimed to not have any such material because he shredded them when he created his 2008 registration.

Gordon’s case proceeded, however, based on his two remaining copyright registrations: (1) a pre-existing 2000 copyright registration that included a property called “Panda Power” which consisted of a giant panda and a red panda, but had no mention of “kung fu” and did not contain any story that was similar to DWA’s film; and (2) a collection of sketches that Gordon registered in 2011 that were conspicuously labeled “Kung Fu Panda Power” and that contained the “Five Fists of Fury,” a group of characters that included the exact same kung fu fighting animals as DWA’s kung fu fighting characters called the “Furious Five,” who were voiced by Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan and others in the 2008 hit film. Neither the words “kung fu” nor Gordon’s purported “Five Fists of Fury” characters were included in any of the thousands of pages of artwork and stories that Gordon had registered with the copyright office in the decades prior to the release of DWA’s film. Nevertheless, Gordon testified that these 2011-registered sketches were created in the early 1990s, and he claimed that he sent these sketches to Disney in the early 1990s, and to DreamWorks thereafter.

Trial was set for early October in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts. Shortly before trial, Loeb & Loeb uncovered a 1996 Disney coloring book featuring characters from the film The Lion King, upon which Gordon’s 2000 and 2011 registrations were clearly derived. The 2011-registered sketches were dated from the early 1990s, but because they were derived from a coloring book that had not been published until 1996, it seems that they were backdated to create Gordon’s copyright claim. After the defendants brought this evidence to the attention of plaintiff’s counsel, and while the defendants were preparing to file a motion to dismiss based on fraud on the court, Gordon dismissed his case with prejudice.

The Loeb & Loeb defense team representing DWA in this suit was led by partners Jonathan Zavin and David Grossman, along with associates Wook Hwang and paralegal Linda J. Pettigrew.

The plaintiff was represented by partners Juanita Brooks, Roger Denning, Gregory Madera, Michael Kane, Joel Leviton and Kristin McCallion of Fish & Richardson and by Mark Fischer of Duane Morris.

This is the second victory that Loeb & Loeb has obtained in connection with Kung Fu Panda. In 2011, the team obtained a defense verdict after a multi-week jury trial in Los Angeles Superior Court in a lawsuit alleging that DWA used the ideas of a tai chi instructor named Terence Dunn in creating the animated hit.