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.

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