Guy Who Claims To Have Come Up With Kung Fu Panda Loses In Court

from the too-bad,-so-sad dept

With pretty much every super successful book, movie or TV show, someone pops up out of the woodwork to claim that it was really "their" idea, and they deserve some ridiculously large cut of the revenue. In the case of the movie Kung Fu Panda, we've already seen at least two different people claim credit. The first one has gone to trial... and lost. The jury actually found that Dreamworks had entered into an "implied" contract with writer Terrence Dunn... but then also found that they didn't actually use any of his ideas, so it didn't matter. These kinds of lawsuits really are nuisance suits, but rather than go back to obscurity, Dunn has already announced plans to appeal.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2011 @ 11:28pm

    Mike, and how the hell do you know who's right or not. You give the impression that Dunn is a liar. We don't know.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2011 @ 11:38pm

    Re:

    What part of "they didn't actually use any of his ideas" did you not understand?

     

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  3.  
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    Mr Big Content, Jul 26th, 2011 @ 11:40pm

    So Unfair

    Seems unjust that they can get out of paying him for his ideas simply by not using them. Itís hard work coming up with good ideas, people who do that deserve to get paid. Otherwise youíre just stealing their livelihood away from them.

     

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  4.  
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    Jay (profile), Jul 26th, 2011 @ 11:52pm

    Re: So Unfair

    How about he actually do something with his ideas other than suing a big corporation?

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 26th, 2011 @ 11:54pm

    Why can't people get it in their heads that IDEAS can't be copyrighted? Sure, you can pay someone to generate ideas. But it doesn't give you the right to collect money every time someone has the same ideas as you. Make the idea into something tangible, and then you have something you can copyright or patent or trademark. Until then, it's just an idea.

     

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  6.  
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    mr. jury trial, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 12:00am

    Am I missing something? How is it that idea-submission claims are categorically a nuisance, yet this guy successfully demonstrated that dreamworks had made an implied promise to pay him if his contributions were included in the film? It seems contradictory to suggest that this was a frivolous suit, on one hand, while in the very next breath reveal that this was actually a pretty close case. After all, this guy managed to get his case all the way to the jury, prevail on the most primary issue in most of these cases, but ultimately lost on what seems to be a fuzzy issue of fact particularly suited for jury determination.

    Idea-submission is an awkward and often problematic area of IP. This is especially true in Hollywood (my favorite is the guy who claimed he was the first person to come up with the idea of cast bill cosy in a sitcom). But in other contexts, such as kids toys, idea-submission is basically all the protection that independent creators have got against the Parker Bros and Mattels of the world. We don't hear about these cases because the industry has developed ways, based in contract and arbitration, to keep them away from the jury. But to say that all idea-submission claims are meritless seems to be an incomplete view based on cherry-picked news coverage.

     

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  7.  
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    mr. jury trial again, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 12:14am

    Also, just to be clear, idea-submission is always primarily a matter of contract, rather than traditional IP, so the lack of copyright is beside the point. It's not about incentivizing ideas, its about putting good ideas in the hands of those most capable of developing them and disseminating them to the public. If dreamworks is free to swipe other peoples ideas without cost, then people will just keep their ideas to themselves, and shittier movies get made.

    If dreamworks promised to pay this guy and they didn't honor their end of the bargain, why shouldn't they be held accountable?

     

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  8.  
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    Todd S., Jul 27th, 2011 @ 12:16am

    Hmm..

    I know this will peg me as a total nerd, but I seem to recall Blizzard depicting wandering Panda kung-fu masters years before anyone in Hollywood was debating it.

     

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  9.  
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    Rikuo (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 1:21am

    Re:

    The idea of a panda using kung-fu is not an original idea - as is the fact he's assisted by five specific animals - they are specific because there are five styles of kung fu named after them i.e., monkey, snake, crane, tiger, and mantis. So his idea of five animal kung fu masters is not an original idea - anyone could have come up with the idea by researching martial arts history. It is not his own unique idea.
    Did he actually do any work on the film? So what if they used his idea, he didn't actually stick around to do any of the work. Now, it would be a different case entirely if he was promised work and reimbursement for said work, but then never received it.

    For a thought exercise, I want you to look at two things. Look at Harry Potter, and the famous Japanese anime, Naruto. Both have remarkably similar ideas and concepts (trio of talented students, a snake user who was a student of the wise old master etc), released in the same year (1997). Now try and tell me that ideas can be protected, that one of the authors here can sue the other.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 1:25am

    Re: Re: So Unfair

    Going by the previous Anon's moniker I'm pretty sure that was sarcastic.

     

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  11.  
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    David, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 1:56am

    DreamWorks

    Also I would like to work. DreamWorks anyway.

     

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  12.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 2:24am

    Re:

    Why can't people get it in their heads that IDEAS can't be copyrighted? Sure, you can pay someone to generate ideas. But it doesn't give you the right to collect money every time someone has the same ideas as you. Make the idea into something tangible, and then you have something you can copyright or patent or trademark. Until then, it's just an idea.

    This isn't a copyright case - it's a breach of contract case.

    For once I have some sympathy with Dunn. It may be that he has been shabbily treated by Dreamworks. It all depends on the details of his dealings with them and their subsequent development of the project.

    What is certain is that there will be cases similar to this in which the plaintiff does have a point. If Dreamworks were already working on the project - or if the idea for the project came from people in the studio who were unaware of the meeting with Dunn then Dreamworks are in the clear. However, if there is a clear causal link between Dunn's pitch and the eventual film then he has a moral case and, depending on the contract (his lookout to make sure it was in place) a legal one too.

    Now it seems that the jury didn't agree with him, and I'd have to bow to their greater knowledge of the details - but you can't just dismiss Dunn as another copyright troll.

     

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  13.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 2:32am

    Re: Re:

    Now try and tell me that ideas can be protected, that one of the authors here can sue the other.

    Ideas can't be protected by copyright, but they can be protected by contract. If one author actually got the idea directly from the other and there was an agreement before disclosure then the second author may have to pay the first.

    In that case it doesn't matter of how obvious the idea is, the contract supersedes all IP law.

     

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  14.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 2:34am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Even without a contract there is a moral obligation to reveal where you got the idea from - but of course no money need be involved in that.

     

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  15.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 2:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    btw if I were Dreamworks I would never listen to a guy who came pitching ideas from the outside. Once he's given you his idea you're sort of stuck. If you use it then you really ought to pay him (and if you don't then you risk the inconvenience and possible bad publicity of a court case).

    Instead I'd offer him a short term (trial) contract of work. If he came up with good ideas I'd keep him on - if not I'd let him go. either way the contract of employment (and associated payment) would ensure that anything he came up with belonged to me.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 2:58am

    You're right. It isn't a copyright case, but a breach of contract case.

     

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  17.  
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    abc gum, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 4:36am

    It was soooo totally my idea - I'm gonna be rich.

     

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  18.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 5:01am

    Re:

    Guess you don't believe the jury system works, do you? You a buddy of Dunn? Maybe his lover? We don't know.

     

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  19.  
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    Anonymous Poster, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 5:44am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    if I were Dreamworks I would never listen to a guy who came pitching ideas from the outside. Once he's given you his idea you're sort of stuck. If you use it then you really ought to pay him (and if you don't then you risk the inconvenience and possible bad publicity of a court case).

    This is exactly why entertainment companies do their best to discourage people from sending them content ideas -- they open themselves up for a lawsuit or three if they accept an idea, toss it, then come up with a similar idea somewhere down the road.

     

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  20.  
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    someone (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 5:56am

    Here is an Idea called personal responsibility

    If you have a great idea, assemble a team and bring it to market.

    Fail to do that and there is only one person to blame, yourself.

     

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  21.  
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    chris, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 6:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No there isn't because ideas don't belong to anyone. Treating them otherwise will only deepen the mess we're in and end up further expanding the scope of copyright and patents. I agree about the contract bit though, if there was an implied contract, then the studio can't use the ideas without compensation.

     

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  22.  
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    chris, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 7:00am

    Re: So Unfair

    Itís hard work coming up with good ideas
    Bollocks! If we're going to think that, then I'm going to imagine a few thousand things at random, everyday, then search until I find someone who has stolen my ideas and sue him like the filthy thief he is. "I don't know how he did it your honor, but that is my idea and he stole it from me." Yeah, if that's your world you can keep it.

     

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  23.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 7:42am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    ...moral obligation....No there isn't because ideas don't belong to anyone.

    The moral obligation is nothing to do with "ownership" it is just to do with honesty. If you get an idea from someone else then you should admit it and not pretend that you came up with it yourself. It doesn't give the other person any rights to money or control over what you are doing.

    (and btw if you had the idea independently then - of course - you don't need to mention anyone else just because they had the same idea)

     

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  24.  
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    Gwiz (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 8:21am

    Re:

    It was soooo totally my idea - I'm gonna be rich.

    Yeah, but I was first to have the idea of suing people for developing ideas similar to ideas I have had first, so......

     

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  25.  
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    steve davidson (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 8:37am

    Dreamworks Steal?

    I would like to think that an organization like Dreamworks doesn't need to steal ideas, BUT have been in far too many meetings where a quiet visionary comes up with a great idea to only have someone else in the meeting take the idea and run with it, getting credit. Sadly, the visionary doesn't always get credit, he only thought of the idea, and didn't actually act on it. Without visionaries, we'd just be expediters... A lesson here for all of us...if you give birth to something and believe in it, raise it and watch it grow. Saw a version of Shark Tank awhile back where a guy got a patent for a hose coupler (not a particularly new idea) but he got over 1 mil because of the patent....

     

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  26.  
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    Missy, Jul 27th, 2011 @ 9:49am

    LOVE kung fu panda

    These movies are awesome, I don't really care who came up with it. When I have a strong opinion about something I go to http://elovehate.com, search & vote!

     

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  27.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Jul 27th, 2011 @ 2:57pm

    Re: LOVE kung fu panda

    Sniff, sniff........is that the aroma of SPAM I smell?

     

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