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A jury has decided that Babybus (Fujian) Network Technology Company committed copyright infringement with its animated series Super Jojo, saying that the company willfully infringed on dozens of copyrights held by Cocomelon rightsholder Moonbug and the show’s producer Treasure Studio.

What did Moonbug win? After two and a half days of deliberations, the jury awarded Moonbug nearly $23.5 million in damages, $17.6 million in actual damages and disgorged profits as well as $5.8 million in statutory damages electable in the alternative.

Case background: The court case began on July 5 and ran for three and a half weeks, but the legal battle stretches back more than two years. In 2021, Moonbug filed its first legal complaint against Babybus, arguing that the company’s show Super Jojo was infringing on numerous Cocomelon copyrights. In September of that year, Youtube deleted the Super Jojo channel saying they had received multiple third-party claims of copyright infringement.” At the time of its deletion, the channel had approximately 22 million subscribers and was among the top 25 animation channels on the platform. In 2022, an amended complaint from Moonbug argued that Super JoJo was built by “blatantly copying CoComelon,” and said the show was “freeriding” off the popularity of Cocomelon’s “characters, settings, song titles, lyrics, and/or images.”

Moonbug’s argument: Moonbug’s council argued that Babybus saw CoComelon as an easy-to-emulate formula for success in young children’s programming and rather than attempt to create something original, instead opted to directly copy not just the Cocomelon formula, but its characters, songs, framing, cinematography, structure, and overall look and feel of entire episodes. Hundreds of videos containing replicated video characters, settings, song titles, lyrics, and images were submitted to back the claims. In total, Moonbug accused Babybus of copying 42 characters, plot devices, and characters from Cocomelon videos. The jury agreed with 39 of those claims.

Babybus’ defense: The company didn’t deny the obvious similarities presented by Moonbug, but instead argued that similar elements between the show were not original to Cocomelon and were inherent to that type of kids’ animated programming, making them unprotectable.

Why is this case important? While copyright lawsuits for properties aren’t uncommon, this case is unique in that not only did the jury agree that the Cocomelon franchise’s copyright protections had been violated, but the individual characters in the show were eligible for full copyright protection, not just “thin” copyrights, as has often been the case in the past.

What is a “thin” copyright? The term refers to copyrights of works where only the smallest bit of creativity is demonstrated. Works protected by thin copyrights are not protected as fervently as those deemed to demonstrate high creativity.  With normal copyrights, a rightsholder can prevent other parties from making reproductions that are substantially similar or derivative. With a thin copyright, the holder is only protected from near-identical copying. In the case of Cocomelon, characters like protagonist JJ and his family have now been deemed fully protected by Moonbug’s copyrights, meaning that similar or derivative characters may violate those protections.

What they’re saying: Ryan Tyz, whose San Francisco firm Tyz Law Group PC represented Moonbug at the trial, said:

I am so proud of the entire Tyz Law Group team, especially Ciara McHale and Deborah Hedley, along with Moonbug’s Victoria Baxter, who led the trial with me and helped tell the CoComelon story, which is as inspiring as the shows they create.

Moonbug’s in-house lawyer Rob Miller said in a statement:

This verdict should serve as a warning that Moonbug will not stand by and allow infringers to free ride off our success, including by making a carbon copy of our beloved JJ character, which is so loved by children across the globe.

A full statement regarding the jury’s verdict can be found on the Tyz Law Group’s website here.

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