Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting

My favorite DreamWorks Animation film, hands down, is Kung Fu Panda. How To Train Your Dragon runs a good second, but the story of Po (and, by extension, the story of Shifu as he develops along with his reluctant student) was one of the best movie experiences I've had.  I love this movie, and was thrilled with its success.

Well, apparently, someone else saw the success and had a different conclusion.  His name is Jayme Gordon, 51, and he could be doing a stretch in the Big House for simply not knowing when to quit.

One of the facts of life about the entertainment industry is that lots of people will have similar ideas and, if someone makes it out of the gate first, they could be opening themselves up to being sued for what is a coincidence.  Now, yes, theft happens, and there are things that bear uncanny resemblences (I was there when the "Deep Space Nine ripped off Babylon 5" bruhaha started up).  But winning such a suit is very difficult, because everything hinges on one important point -- that the person/company being sued somehow was aware of what the plaintiff had created.  I point to my comic book idea for Paperboy, that Crusaders Ltd. also did and got out first.  The producers seemed to be a little worried that I'd try to cause legal trouble.  But we didn't even know each other existed or what we were working on, they came up with the idea on their own and beat me to the punch.  And that was all there was to it.

Like I said, the "proof" thing can be tricky to nail down.  But there are people and companies that would rather not deal with the headache or just consider it part of doing business and will pay up with something that, after taxes and attorneys' fees and an NDA, is a nice little chunk of change.  So a lot of people will treat it like a lottery ticket -- maybe they'll win something for the few bucks they put up.

This, apparently, is Mr. Gordon.  In 1999 and 2000, Gordon filed for copyright on Jamie Gordon's Panda Power.  There were hundreds of pages of drawings and stories about "Kid," a giant panda described as "serious," "mature," and a big brother type, and "Red," a little red panda described as "playful," "mischievous," and "the more immature" one.  Just another guy with a dream and ambition, languishing in obscurity.

That changed in early 2008, with the release of the trailer for DreamWorks' Kung Fu Panda.  Gordon's actions at the time didn't add up to anything nice.  He reworked his characters and drawings and filed it with the Copyright Office as Kung Fu Panda Power in May 2008, about a month before the movie itself debuted.  He restyled the appearances of the characters to more resemble the movie, and even flipped the personalities around to match the movie better.

Cut to February 2011.  Gordon went to the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts and filed a copyright infringement suit.  He alleged he had sent his idea in to DreamWorks, and they ripped him off.  In July, Gordon's lawyers contacted DreamWorks' lawyers.  Among the allegations was that an expert witness had determined that Gordon had suffered damages of more than $150 mil from all this.  But, Gordon was willing to let the whole thing go for $12 mil and half a percentage royalty on all future KFP sales revenue.

The lawsuit moved into the discovery phase.  And it was here that Gordon learned a hard truth about computers and hard drives -- the data is never truly gone.  Even if you write random 1's and 0's over it, it still exists on some layer.  It's time consuming and can be expensive, so the question is, how much is it worth to go through it?  Well, $12 mil and half a percent makes it worth quite a bit.  The DreamWorks team found that Gordon had installed a program called Permanent Eraser (names like that always make us computer geeks howl with laughter).  On April 10, 2012, Gordon deliberately erased information on his computer related to the lawsuit, and then erased Permanent Eraser on April 13, 2012.

Gordon wasn't giving up easily, though, so DreamWorks played another card.  This one was the discovery that Gordon's artwork for the pandas, dated 1992 and 1994, were in fact copied from a 1996 Disney coloring book.

During deposition, Gordon denied this.  There is no record he sat there saying, "Hammina hammina hammina...."  In 2013, Gordon withdrew his lawsuit for reasons known only to himself (chuckle, snort).

Well, you don't pull shit like that and get away with it.  Remember I said he filed his initial lawsuit in the District of Massachusetts?  Guess what?  This put Gordon in the crosshairs of the Cybercrime Unit of the Boston US AG.  They are notoriously aggressive (anyone else remember Aaron Swartz?), and went after Gordon for wire fraud and perjury.  The perjury is obvious.  Wire fraud?  That comes from four emails sent on his behalf by his attorneys with the settlement proposal.  Gordon "did knowingly means of wire communication in interstate commerce, writings...for the purpose of executing" the whole scheme.

On December 16, 2015, Gordon was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts of wire fraud and perjury.  If the Cybercrime Unit comes up aces, Gordon is loking at up to 25 years in the slammer, six years of supervised release, up to $500K in fines, and reimbursement for what DreamWorks spent defending itself from this (the bill is $1 mil to the lawyers and $2 mil to the insurance company).

Now, I don't say this to discourage people from seeking justice.  If you've been wronged, you have every right to seek restitution.  But thinking you can game the system?  Against a company who were probably defending cases like this while they were still in law school?

Be smart.  Be honest.  It's a lot less hassle.
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