Cartoonist Who Claimed 'Kung Fu Panda' Ripped Off His Work Might Be Headed To Prison
from the from-plaintiff-to-defendant-(and-civil-to-criminal) dept
So, you’ve sued a major studio for copyright infringement and lost. How bad could it be? Here are the possible outcomes, rated from least to most painful.
4. Dismissed without prejudice. (A glimmer of hope. You can refile.)
3. Dismissed with prejudice. (You’re done.)
2. Dismissed with prejudice and fees awarded to the defendant. (If you thought paying one lawyer was expensive…)
1. You’re prosecuted for wire fraud and perjury and face fines of $500,000 and 25 years in prison.
Jayme Gordon, the other person to sue Dreamworks for allegedly copying his work has won the Worst Outcome Ever sweepstakes. The cartoonist claimed Dreamworks ripped off his sketches and he seemingly had the evidence to prove this — including a rarity in many of these little-guy-sues-big-studio lawsuits: actual registered works.
Gordon demanded $12 million and a cut of the proceeds. He survived a motion to dismiss and seemed ready to take a serious run at the studio. Two years after he filed the lawsuit, Gordon suddenly dismissed it with prejudice and received no settlement for doing so.
Apparently, while Gordon was litigiously complaining about someone ripping him off, he had been ripping off another major player in the animation industry: Disney. The drawings he submitted to the copyright registration office in 2000 (that Gordon claimed to have created in 1992) looked very similar to some found in a Disney coloring book published in 1996.
A deeper investigation into Gordon’s actions uncovered even more dubious behavior. Brian Gabriel at Cartoon Brew has more details.
According to the indictment, Gordon saw a trailer for Kung Fu Panda in early 2008. Gordon then revised his Panda Power drawings and registered them as Kung Fu Panda Power with the Copyright Office in May 2008, prior to the June 2008 release of DreamWorks’ animated feature.
In addition, Gordon apparently deleted possibly incriminating evidence from his personal computer to better obscure the origin of his “original” illustrations.
During discovery related to the lawsuit, DreamWorks’ attorneys unearthed evidence that on April 10, 2012 Gordon had deliberately erased computer files holding material related to the lawsuit. In fact, Gordon installed and used a program called Permanent Eraser to remove the files, and then deleted Permanent Eraser itself on April 13, 2012.
So, how do bogus copyright claims rise to the level of wire fraud? Well, in the same way that almost any false communication can be considered wire fraud if the government feels like pursuing it.
The Cybercrime Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston will now prosecute Gordon, alleging that, when his attorneys sent four emails on his behalf related to the lawsuit, including requests for discovery and a settlement proposal, Gordon “did knowingly transmit…by means of wire communication in interstate commerce, writings…for the purpose of executing” his fraudulent scheme, and that by knowingly lying under oath he committed perjury.
If only Gordon had hand-delivered those communications…
That’s the bogus part of this prosecution. Sure, perjury is a given, considering the evidence uncovered by Dreamworks’ lawyers. But wire fraud? That’s just charge stacking. This office, however, isn’t exactly shy about trumping up charges to make itself seem more impressive. It’s the same US Attorney’s Office that was behind the investigation and prosecution of Aaron Swartz, so this could go very, very badly for Gordon.
Gordon’s case does show there’s an absolute rock bottom to bogus copyright infringement lawsuits. Most suits never involve anything more than people mistakenly thinking IP laws protect ideas rather than expressions, or that similar ideas/expressions must be infringing because it’s not possible for more than one person to think of the same thing. Both are the result of people overestimating their originality and grasp of copyright law.
Gordon’s case looks like someone attempting to knock bags off a passing money train. Many have made similar efforts, but Gordon has surpassed them all in terms of complete, abject failure.