Kung Fu Panda: Not Dreamt Up by DreamWorks?
A Massachusetts illustrator filed suit last Wednesday in federal district court in Boston, alleging that DreamWorks Animation, the movie studio responsible for the Kung Fu Panda movies, is infringing on his copyrights. According to Jayme Gordon’s complaint, the illustrator alleges that DreamWorks’s animated panda, Po, shares a substantial similarity to one of Gordon’s copyrighted characters.
In the 1990s, Gordon started drawing the character Kidd, a rotund panda that likes to eat and has mastered the art of kung fu. Along with his character Kidd, Gordon developed a small red panda as Kidd’s sidekick and a kung fu fighting group known as the “Five Fists of Fury.” In 2000, Gordon registered these animated characters with the United States Copyright Office. The illustrator stated in his complaint that he regularly sent his works to animation and film studios and he alleges that DreamWorks obtained his illustrations and used them as the basis for Kung Fu Panda films.
Besides the substantial similarity between Gordon’s Kidd and DreamWorks’s Po, the complaint alleges infringement on other characters and plot elements. DreamWorks’s team of martial arts-inclined animals, known as the “Furious Five,” is made up of the same five animals as Gordon’s “Five Fists of Fury.” Gordon’s Kidd and his team live in “The Valley of Peace,” while parts of Kung Fu Panda are set in the almost-identically named “Valley of Peace.” The complaint shows Gordon’s illustrations, as well as a side-by-side image of Gordon’s and DreamWorks’s panda characters.
DreamWorks has handsomely profited from the June 6, 2008 nationwide release of Kung Fu Panda, which grossed over $630 million. The studio is looking to further increase revenue with their release of Kung Fu Panda 2, scheduled for a June 3 release. In Gordon’s complaint, he seeks damages and any profits the movie studio made from the films, pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504. He also seeks authorship rights, statutory damages, and attorney’s fees.