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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Comments on “Guy Who Claims To Have Come Up With Kung Fu Panda Loses In Court”

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28 Comments
chris says:

Re: So Unfair

It?s 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: 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.

mr. jury trial says:

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.

mr. jury trial again says:

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?

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Anonymous Poster says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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.

chris says:

Re: Re: Re:2 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.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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)

steve davidson (profile) says:

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….

anonymous says:

Snail vs Snail Troll case

My friend was also a troll case his copyright book and character trademark snail IP didn’t become a lawsuit case. A snail movie and book had the same ideas, similarities, from beginning to end, expect the end of the movie the snail won the race and the snail in the book was glad to be home with family and friends He took it to a lawyer my friend was brushed off -no lawsuit, get the hell out of here! I find it strange that all the similarities did not make a case, so weird How can a person think the same ideas as you especially more than one idea at the same time out comes a movie you present it and get an answer no case, its the law!

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