DreamWorks Animation, the animation powerhouse, has come out on top in the lawsuit involving the hit movie Kung Fu Panda after a Los Angeles jury issued a verdict in its favor.
Terrence Dunn, former CEO of Zen Bear Inc. and self-proclaimed “writer-producer,” claimed DreamWorks Animation stole his idea and began development of the movie project without him after he pitched it to the studio months before.
Dunn claims to have spoken to a studio executive pitching a story of a “spiritual kung-fu fighting panda bear” who was “adopted by five animal friends in the forest (a tiger, a leopard, a dragon, a snake and a crane), whose destiny is foretold by an old and wise sage, Turquoise Tortoise, and who comes of age and fulfills his destiny as a martial arts hero and spiritual avatar.”
Dunn filed the suit in June of 2010 based on breach of an implied contract, claiming he was entitled to a percentage of the profits from the film. “The decision in the DreamWorks Animation case where Zen-Bear Inc. sued for breach of an implied contract over the Kung Fu Panda movie is interesting, but not necessarily surprising. It is common in the entertainment industry for someone to come up with an idea for a movie, story, or other venture that they want to develop but lack the financial resources or know-how on how to produce the project. Ideas alone are not subject to intellectual property protection unless they qualify as a trade secret or are the subject of a patent. When someone discloses an idea for a project, like in the DreamWorks case, in order to establish there was an implied contract the party must prove the idea was only being disclosed with the clear understanding the parties were going to jointly participate in any profits derived and that the disclosure was conditioned upon the obligation to pay for the idea. It must be established the recipient voluntarily accepted the disclosure and impliedly promised to compensate the person with the idea,” says Robert Klein, Law Offices of Robert M. Klein. “Once it is established there was this implied promise to pay for the idea, it is incumbent upon the party seeking compensation for breach of this implied contract to submit evidence to establish there was no substantial similarity between the movie and the plaintiff’s outline as to form and manner of expression. This is a factual determination the jury needs to make. Even if the idea was taken with the intent to exploit the idea without payment, it is common that there are significant modifications so that the finished work deviates enough from the original format. To protect oneself from having their ideas “ripped off”, it is necessary to have a very detailed outline as to the concept and expression and to have some understanding the outline is not being presented without an understanding that there is an intent to a participation in the project.”
The jury agreed that DreamWorks did enter into an implied-in-fact contract, but found that the studio did not use Dunn’s ideas resulting in the request for damages a moot point. DreamWorks is “pleased with the decision of the jury, which supports our position that this was a baseless lawsuit,” whereas Dunn’s representation plans to appeal the decision.
To date, Kung-Fu Panda has grossed over $630 million. The kids’ movie starred Jack Black, and earlier this summer a successful sequel was released into theatres.