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Law

Fake ‘Kung Fu Panda’ Creator Convicted of Fraud, Faces Up To 25 Years in Prison

Jayme Gordon, the 51-year-old cartoonist who lied about creating the concept for Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda, was convicted yesterday by a federal jury in Boston for wire fraud and perjury. He will be sentenced on March 30, 2017; the charges carry a maximum of 25 years in prison.

There are countless cases where amateur creators sue a movie studio for stealing their idea, but rarely does the federal government launch a criminal investigation. In this instance, Gordon not only accused Dreamworks of stealing his idea, but he concocted an elaborate scheme that involved creating fake concept art which he claimed dated back the early 1990s. His case fell apart, however, after Dreamworks’ lawyers discovered that the artwork Gordon claimed was from 1992 was actually copied out of a Lion King coloring book from 1996.

Jonathan Zavin, one of Dreamworks’ lead lawyers at Loeb & Loeb, testified during the U.S. government’s trial about the unprecedented fraud that Gordon attempted to commit in his lawsuit against Dreamworks. “I’ve never had a case that involved this kind of spoliation of evidence, this kind of destruction of evidence,” Zavin said on direct examination. “This was absolutely unique in my experience.”

An article at the web site Law360 explains how Dreamworks’ lawyers were able to find the key piece of evidence that broke open the case by going on an Ebay shopping spree of Lion King merchandise. (Full disclosure: I worked on the case as the art expert for Dreamworks’ legal defense team.)

While Gordon had actually created a concept called Panda Power, he revised the concept after seeing the trailer for Kung Fu Panda in early 2008, and re-registered it with the Copyright Office in May 2008 as Kung Fu Panda Power, immediately before the June 2008 release of DreamWorks’ animated feature.

Gordon's personal drawing style looked amateurish in comparison to the drawings that he copied from other sources.
Gordon’s personal drawing style looked amateurish in comparison to the drawings that he copied from other sources.

As we had covered earlier, Gordon’s ruse to bilk Dreamworks out of $12 million also involved destroying digital evidence and lying about it under oath:

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.

By the time the case was dismissed, Dreamworks Animation, and co-defendant Paramount Pictures, had spent nearly $3 million to defend themselves, a fee that they were unable to recover due to the dismissal agreement.

The Boston Cybercrime Unit, which prosecuted the case against Gordon, is famously aggressive in prosecuting alleged violations of U.S intellectual property law, most notably its controversial prosecution of software developer, Internet activist, and Reddit pioneer Aaron Swartz for wire fraud and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Swartz committed suicide in 2013 after prosecutors rejected a plea bargain offer made by Swartz.

  • Marc Hendry

    How did you guys know to start digging through old Lion King colouring books?

    • AmidAmidi

      I examined hundreds of Gordon’s drawings, and noticed there was a huge discrepancy between his good and bad drawings, and that’s because anything that was posed or had construction was traced/altered from existing animation art. There’s a report I wrote that pinpointed many examples, so it was very obvious that his Panda Power pitch materials could not have been invented from his own imagination.

      In the report, I made the argument that his red panda was copied from Timon and stressed to Dreamworks lawyers they should pursue the idea that he copied existing artwork, so they knew that the answer lay somewhere in The Lion King. They get all the credit for the idea of buying up Lion King merchandise off eBay. Here’s the ‘smoking gun’ coloring book (right) compared to Gordon’s art. Incidentally, in the most recent proceedings, Gordon claimed that Disney had copied these drawings from him.

      https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/40ffe8b7de2e4d0b033d550dbd8c6d034cf287a1b9a194ee2d2aaf2926991169.jpg

      • Marc Hendry

        good catch!

      • Mermaid Warrior

        Amazing that you found that! I bet being an art expert for these kinds of cases is an interesting job.

      • It’s pretty telling how the ‘artist’ couldn’t figure out how to draw that pose of Timon to ‘create’ his red panda character without losing the chopsticks from the original drawing, so it just looks rather odd how he’s got those chopsticks out without nothing else there as if there’s something beneath the panel he’s looking at!

  • Paul M

    Tai Chi master Terry Dunn had a much better claim to having a hand in the creation of KFP, since he actually met with Dreamworks execs to pitch a story about a kung fu fighting panda named zen bear. I remember seeing his zen bear ads in Tai Chi magazines in the 90’s.

    http://kungfupandalawsuit.com/

  • Rae

    this guy has got be out of his mind

  • Samuel Côté

    Is it me or 25 years is a bit too much ? I mean the guy lie and try to get money from a movie studio he didnt kill anyone or aggress young children

    • Mermaid Warrior

      I doubt he’ll actually get 25 years. For lots of crimes, it’s pretty rare for a person to get the maximum penalty.

    • Honest_Miss

      This is why it’s dangerous to try and steal from the big dogs, I guess. You may not be a murderer, but you’ll be charged like one.

  • slothy

    WTF? 25 years in prison? I know that he is the aggressor here, it’s his fault, but still, 25 years in prison is insane. $3 million are peanuts for dreamworks, this is all so much out of proportion. I kinda get that ‘he played with fire and burnt himself’, but the system’s already broken if a person can end up in this situation.

    • AmidAmidi

      Sentencing
      for federal crimes is typically less than the maximum penalty, so he
      will likely get a fraction of the 25-year max. It’ll depend on the judge
      who sentences him next March.

  • glennsmooth

    The system is seriously flawed if some completely foolish hack can cause $3 million in damage to a company. Hope he rots in jail.

  • Inkan1969

    That looks like a print version of a “Timon & Pumbaa” TV cartoon where they help a lost panda cub while in China.

    • Yes, this was a Timon & Pumbaa coloring book. As obscure as it sounds, I can see how he thought he could get away with what was already a spin-off from TLK.

  • Abdullah Zubair

    Yet there aren’t many characters other than Po who are known as chinese pandas in animation

    • Mermaid Warrior

      In all fairness, it’s not like there is a ton of mainstream animation that takes place in China. If there was, panda characters would be very common.

      • I think the irony in all this is that in all the years we’ve known of kung fu and pandas, Dreamworks was the only one to successfully marry the two together for such a clever film, anyone could’ve easily have done it but it just simply didn’t happen.

        • Mermaid Warrior

          I’m surprised the movie was so good. When I saw the trailers, I thought it was gonna be horrible, ha ha.

          • I’m sure we all expected a cheesy film there!

          • Mermaid Warrior

            I didn’t expect cheesy, I expected full-on terrible, ha ha. Jack Black plays a doofy panda who inspires a lot of fat jokes? Sounded like a recipe for disaster.

  • Mister Twister

    Destroying digital evidence, you say?…………

  • Mermaid Warrior

    I also want to point out that you can’t really sue for just “ideas”. Ideas are pretty worthless, execution is what matters. Dunn’s arguments that his work was stolen are based off of pretty superficial similarities. Even if DreamWorks did get the inspiration/idea from his pitch, they’d have to take more than just “animals doing kung-fu in China” (a pretty generic idea) to warrant giving him credit.

    I love how the website suggests creating a Zen Panda mask to wear at a showing of the next KFP movie to protest.

  • Mr. James

    Thank you! Based on this statement I’m working on a pitch to Dreamworks about an American bald eagle that travels to Mexico to take down a group of buzzards that are preying on a small village of rodents. It will be rejected and then I will sue Disney/Henson Studios for creating Sam The Eagle. I see no way this will end in me going to jail.

    * heads to EBay to find old coloring books depicting Sam The Eagle.

  • Mermaid Warrior

    My favorite part about this is how lousy his own drawings are compared to the traced stuff.

  • Mermaid Warrior

    He most likely did expect obscurity to help him out. Even if DW could tell the artwork was traced, would they be able to find the exact coloring book he traced from? I mean, I doubt the book in question is still in print. But it was pretty stupid of him to assume that a huge company with plenty of lawyers wouldn’t figure this out, ha ha.

  • Chicken McPhee

    There’s nothing lower than pretending you came up with something to reap the benefits. It’s worse than theft of physical goods.
    Is a life sentence a bit much? It equals to 120K annual salary for 25 years. The punishment should fit the damage, so it seems like he got a good deal.

  • Alberto Herrera Jr.

    This is stupid. As said by TheMysteriousMrEnter, “If you think that you can become famous for doing absolutely nothing, then you’re an idiot on multiple levels.” That’s exactly how this whole thing feels like. It seems like Jayme Gordon was trying to start some drama to get noticed by the animation industry. And copying a picture from a Lion King coloring book is even more pathetic. This guy should have done something better with his time instead of trying to sue a major animation studio to cash in on a successful franchise.