Multiple Lawsuits From Multiple People Who All Say They Came Up With Kung Fu Panda

from the ideas-vs.-execution dept

We'd heard a while back a guy named Terence Dunn who had sued Dreamworks, claiming that he had come up with the concept of "Kung Fu Panda," which Dreamworks made into a massively successful film. We hadn't written about it at the time, because for pretty much every big successful film or book, someone comes out of the woodwork to claim some sort of ownership stake. However, now we've got a second such lawsuit. THREsq reports on a guy named Jayme Gordon, who actually seems to have a somewhat stronger claim, in that he actually created a project, registered with the US Copyright Office, called "Kung Fu Panda Power" whose characters have some similarities to the movie's characters. Assuming the drawings in that article are accurate, it would seem that he has a much stronger claim that the usual "that movie took my idea!" claim.

Still, there are two things to consider. Is the idea of a Panda that does Kung Fu really so original? After all, there seem to be multiple people who came up with it, and it seems like a pretty straightforward thought process. As a commenter on the linked article above notes:
Combining Kung Fu and a Panda is not a terribly difficult idea to come up with. You say you want a Kung Fu movie, but with animals? Okay, where does Kung Fu come from? China? Oh, okay. Well, what kinda animals live in China? Well, there's the Panda, of course. Bingo. Let's make it.
And, the second point is one we've pointed out before: there's a big difference between an idea and executing on the idea. Just having a general idea that many others might have as well shouldn't give you the right to step in and collect some of the profits from those who actually took the risk and executed successfully on the idea.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Rabbit80, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:41am

    So why didn't this guy finish his own project, release it on the back of the movie using that to secure bigger profits and keep his copyright as a defense when the studios tried to sue him? Seems he might have made more money that way!

     

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  2.  
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    RikuoAmero (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:42am

    I've got a great idea

     

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  3.  
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    RikuoAmero (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:43am

    Re: I've got a great idea

    Whoops pressed enter at the wrong time there.
    I've got a great idea for a movie. It's got people in it. Therefore, if I see a movie and there's a person in it, then that studio stole my idea! They owe me money!

     

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  4.  
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    Bt Garner (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:47am

    Kung Fu Anime

    Didn't the anime of "Ranma 1/2" have a Kung Fu Panda ?

     

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  5.  
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    Not an electronic Rodent, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:58am

    Re: Kung Fu Anime

    Didn't the anime of "Ranma 1/2" have a Kung Fu Panda ?
    Yep think so. Also arguably one of the Wild Cards books had a sentient fighting panda (different context).

    The concept of any anthropomorphic "combat" animal is hardly original - Ninja Turtles to name but one - I wouldn't see it as original to apply it to yet another animal whether that particular animal had been done before or not.
    Even the concept of a bunch of different such animals together is hardly unique (I could probably claim rights myself from stories developed in TMNT RPG from a mis-spent youth!) so for me it'd have to be pretty much a very close rip-off of a specific story he'd done about those specific animals for me to do much more than laugh at him.

    On the other hand I'm not a copyright lawyer so no doubt there's good money to be made arguing about it.....

     

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  6.  
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    Jay (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:00am

    Re: Kung Fu Anime

    No, that was a big teddy bear. Your eyes were playing tricks on you.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:04am

    Re: Re: Kung Fu Anime

    Since they are all Pandas doing Kung Fu, it would appear to be a very, very narrow field.

    It is easy to dismiss anything as "obvious". Heck, Star Wars is obvious (good and bad, right and wrong, temptation, space ships, funny aliens) if you want to go down that level.

    The overall concept (animals doing non-animal things) isn't narrow enough for a copyright. But a Panda, doing Kung Fu, with a smaller buddy... that is a pretty narrow field.

     

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  8.  
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    TriZz (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:19am

    Tekken has been doing is since 1998

    In Tekken 3 -- we were introduced to the character "Panda"

    http://tekken.wikia.com/wiki/Panda

    This game came out in April of 1998.

     

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  9.  
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    Kirk (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:23am

    These thieves should all be ashamed of themselves for stealing each otherís ideas.

    This is theft! And murder! And genocide!

    Anyone who disagrees is simply a denier, and should be ashamed of himself.

     

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  10.  
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    cc (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:26am

    According to TFA, the complaint is a "colorfully illustrated 28-page" document, though I can't actually find a copy.

    Apparently the following image comes from that doc:
    http://jonathanturley.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/kung_fu_pandas.jpg

    Striking similarity, tbh, though perhaps it only shows how incredibly unoriginal both Disney and this guy are (who imo can't even draw).

     

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  11.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:30am

    No such thing!

    Someone once said (and I often (mis)quote) - "There is no such thing as a new idea!"... Heck, I came up with the idea for laser discs on my own back in the 70's. I even wrote up ideas on the implementation of it. Does that mean that I can sue all the CD/DVD/BR manufacturers? Wouldn't that be (not) nice! :-)

     

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  12.  
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    Not an electronic Rodent, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:33am

    Re: Re: Re: Kung Fu Anime

    , Star Wars is obvious (good and bad, right and wrong, temptation, space ships, funny aliens) if you want to go down that level.
    Yep the main plot of Star Wars is classic "Space Opera" as written in many books and films, not to mention many RPG's both before and after. The mix of aliens and humans, small all powerful evil + stooges vs. more dispersed beleaguered good, mind powers... etc etc none of it unique or anythign other than obvious.
    The overall concept (animals doing non-animal things) isn't narrow enough for a copyright.
    That was rather my point - once the basic concept is established as it is, merely picking the same animal as the main character could easily be coincidence as one you set the thing in China there's kind of a limited amount of animals likely to have international recognition.
    As for the "smaller buddy", he was actually a teacher but either way, "inept student and wise sensei" or "buddies who hate each other but love each other in the end" are hardly original plot devices. Not saying he doesn't have something as I don't know what story he claims to have, just saying for me it'd have to be a lot more specific than "It's got a panda and some others in" or any other combination of 2 or 3 general factors.

     

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    The Groove Tiger (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 7:33am

    "Combining Kung Fu and a Panda is not a terribly difficult idea to come up with. You say you want a Kung Fu movie, but with animals? Okay, where does Kung Fu come from? China? Oh, okay. Well, what kinda animals live in China? Well, there's the Panda, of course. Bingo. Let's make it."

    Then there's the point that a lot of chinese martial art styles are named after actual animals. In fact, the same animals of the movie, so it's not terribly difficult to come up with the idea that a real animal should play the part of a martial artist that specialises in each of these styles.

     

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    Overcast (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 8:08am

    Oh wait, that was my idea. I'm going to sue!

     

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  15.  
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    FormerAC (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 8:22am

    Panderan in Warcraft

    Yeah, must be a completely original idea. Blizzard's Warcraft series of games has featured the Paneran for about a decade now. I'm sure they aren't the only ones.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 9:08am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Kung Fu Anime

    Good point, although I would say that Star Wars goes back much further than the "Space Opera" genre. In fact, it's pretty much a classic fairy tale.

    You have your "farm boy with a destiny" (Luke), a pirate (Han), a princess (Leia), good and evil wizards (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader), and fantastic creatures (Chewie, the cantina patrons, droids et al). I'm sure there are other parallels that I'm not thinking of off the top of my head (the Emperor as "evil king", perhaps)?

     

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  17.  
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    ethorad (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 9:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Kung Fu Anime

    See TV Tropes for more info:
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HomePage

    Warning: clicking on that link may cause you to lose hourse of time

     

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  18.  
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    kryptonianjorel (profile), Feb 21st, 2011 @ 9:31am

    I disagree

    "there's a big difference between an idea and executing on the idea"

    This guy apparently did try to execute the idea, but Disney and Dreamworks wouldn't work with him. So "Kung fu Panda Power" wasn't produced due to a lack ambition, but a lack of resources.

    There are too many connections between Gordon and Eisner and Katzenberg to brush this off as a coincidence.

    This about it this way; 'Jeff' pitch a story idea to DW, they decline, and 2 years later, they produce a movie similar to your idea. So, by Mike's argument, since Jeff didn't execute on his idea whereas DW did, he has no leg to stand on.

     

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  19.  
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    Louis, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 9:42am

    I don't know if there's a kind of curse on Kung Fu Panda, but I've just remembered there was a guy in China filing a lawsuit against Disney (in China) because the movie was, according to him, a misrepresentation of their culture. He also complained saying that the panda in the cartoon had green coloured eyes, which is quite devil-style in chinese culture.

     

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  20.  
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    abc gum, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 9:50am

    How many restaurants are called Kung Fu Panda?

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Kung Fu Anime

    Well, again, once you get down to some narrow specifics, it is pretty hard not to say the combination is somewhat original, and most importantly, the overall concept itself is original enough.

    Remember, it isn't a question of if the idea is "obvious" here, the question is "did this guy come up with it first, and did he show it to the executives who ended up using the idea?"

    For your amusement, consider this Kevin Smith clip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vgYhLIThTvk

    You have to listen to the whole bit, because the punch line comes in the last 10 seconds.

    Ideas.

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 1:29pm

    I dunno. There's so much similarity in this space that I'd always suspected Kung Fu Panda was a re-working of Beverly Hills Ninja so that it wouldn't feel dated to modern audiences and would age better this time around.

    "I loved that movie, but it didn't age very well."
    "Well, how DO you make sure something ages well?"
    "You... disconnect it from the cultural elements that may be transient."
    "Ok, so clothing styles, hairstyles, architecture, slang, and so on. How do we do that?"
    "Anthropomorphic animals in ancient china?"

     

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  23.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 2:39pm

    Re: I disagree

    Unless he "Jeff" had a contract with DW that they then violated, then yes, he has no leg to stand on, nor should he.

     

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  24.  
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    SuperSmile, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 2:52pm

    Response to: Rabbit80 on Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:41am

    Not everyone has an extra million to produce their own films. (There is a reason for the term "starving artist"). Apparently he had the kung fu panda project under a copyright years before the film was made, covering a bunch of the characters and other stuff in the movie. He pitched it to Disney a long time ago, when Katzenburg worked there, later Katzenburg left to make Dreamworks and probably just used the story. If he has a government copyright way before the movie...It doesnt get more legit than that.

     

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  25.  
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    Rabbit80, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Response to: Rabbit80 on Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:41am

    Point taken.

     

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  26.  
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    Not an electronic Rodent, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 5:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Kung Fu Anime

    Good point, although I would say that Star Wars goes back much further than the "Space Opera" genre. In fact, it's pretty much a classic fairy tale.
    :-) Thought I'd gone far enough, but if you wanted to trace it that far you could probably go back through western and "high adventure" stories all the way back to epic poetry like Beowulf.....

     

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  27.  
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    Not an electronic Rodent, Feb 21st, 2011 @ 5:35pm

    Re: Response to: Rabbit80 on Feb 21st, 2011 @ 6:41am

    He pitched it to Disney a long time ago, when Katzenburg worked there, later Katzenburg left to make Dreamworks and probably just used the story.
    Perhaps it says something about the system if his only option was to pitch it to a corporation really rather known for nicking other's ideas to sell.... /devil's advocate

     

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  28.  
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    charliebrown (profile), Feb 22nd, 2011 @ 11:59pm

    Yep, it's original!

     

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  29.  
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    Terence Dunn, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 6:49pm

    One of the two lawsuits against Dreamworks over KF Panda

    Visit the URL: www.kungfupandalawsuit.com to read up on the history of Dunn vs. Dreamworks Animation SKG tried July 2011 in favor of DWA in a controversial split decision (11-to-1, Yes an implied contract existed between Dunn and DWA; 9-to-3, No DWA didn't use Dunn's ideas(!)).The case is now on appeal. Dunn created his first Zen-Bear/kung-fu-fighting panda bear in 1993 and has 60 copyrights and 3 trademarks. The appeal for new trial according to ALL legal experts is that Dunn will get a new trial because of instructional errors (to the jury) committed by the trial judge that prejudiced him. If Dunn's appeal for a retrial is granted, DWA will not be so lucky in Round Two.

     

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  30.  
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    Terence Dunn, Jan 7th, 2013 @ 6:59pm

    Dreamworks Oppositioin Brief to Dunn's appeal

    Forgot to mention in my post a few minutes ago: Dunn will most likely be granted because Dreamworks in its Opposition Brief presented absolutely no response to Dunn's central arguments for a new trial based on prejudicial instructional errors by the trial judge. Read Dunn's Rebuttal Brief posted on the above URL. You will learn of DWA's "independent creation" defense, and how the trial judge in July 2011 gave insufficient jury instructions, misstated the law, and confused the jury, which led to a verdict for the defense...all fully fact-checked by trial transcript citations.

     

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