If you can’t make it big on your own, you can always cash in on someone else’s success by claiming it as your own and suing them for it. That’s what one man decided to do when he concocted a plan to defraud DreamWorks Animation.
In his scheme, 51-year-old Jayme Gordon falsely claimed that the animation studio stole his concept and characters to create the leader character behind the wildly popular Kung Fu Panda movie, and sued the studio for millions of dollars. However, his plan fell apart after years of litigation, and the feds nailed him for it.
Following prosecution by the Boston Cybercrime Unit for the US Attorney’s Office, Gordon was found guilty before a federal jury on November 18, 2016 on four counts of wire fraud and three counts of perjury for his crimes. This Wednesday, he was sentenced to two years in prison and three years of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $250,000 and more than $3 million in restitution to the studio.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston laid out the scope of the crime: Several months before Kung Fu Panda’s June 2008 release, Gordon came up with the idea to defraud the studio using drawings and a story he had created about pandas, which he registered in 2000. His “Panda Power” story bore little resemblance to characters in the movie but, after seeing the trailer, Gordon altered his sketches to look more like the movie’s characters and renamed it “Kung Fu Panda Power.”
Gordon’s revisions included removing his character’s mask and medallion and giving him a Kung Fu rope belt and shorts to more closely resemble the movie’s protagonist, Po. He also altered the descriptions to align with the DreamWorks characters he saw in the trailer.
In February 2011, he filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the studio in the US District Court in Massachusetts and later proposed a settlement that he hoped would earn him $12 million for his fabrications. DreamWorks shot down the proposal and litigation continued until 2013.
One of the “expert witnesses” who testified on his behalf claimed that Gordon suffered damages of more than $150 million.
During discovery, DreamWorks lawyers alleged that Gordon deleted evidence on his computer that he was required to produce. The studio also argued that the artist manufactured and backdated sketches for his lawsuit. DreamWorks bolstered its case by arguing convincingly that Gordon had actually traced some of his panda drawings using a Lion King coloring book from 1996.
This was before the would-be millionaire had backdated the artwork (to 1992 and 1993) —years before the coloring book was even published. His error caused his entire case against DreamWorks to fall apart. With his lies apparent, Gordon agreed to drop his lawsuit.
He may have called it quits, but the studio—and the feds—were out for blood. At this point, DreamWorks had already spent $3 million in defense against Gordon’s frivolous lawsuit, and he wouldn’t be allowed to get away with his failed attempt at a scam. And he didn’t.