Canadian Court Upholds Animator’s Copyright Claim Against Cinar

The Montreal Gazette is reporting that Quebec Court of Appealhas upheld a previous ruling against Cinar (the forerunner to Cookie Jar). The case involves Claude Robinson and a series he created called Les aventures de Robinson Curiosité. After trying to sell the series with Cinar to other production studios and without any success, Claude was astonished to discover that Cinar had launched their own series, Robinson Sucroé.

After a 14 year legal wrangle, the court has awarded him damages that although far below what was originally awarded, still amount to CA$5.2 million, which breaks down as follows (as listed in the CBC’s story):

  • $607,000 for copyright infringement.
  • $1.7 million for profits earned by Cinar and other broadcasting companies.
  • $400,000 for psychological distress.
  • $1 million in exemplary damages.
  • $1.5 million for legal fees.

While this sounds like the nightmare of just about every artist out there, it is important to remember that cases such as this one are extremely rare. Fourteen years is long, even in the legal world, and a settlement is most likely to be hammered out long ago instead.

Did Robinson have a case? I haven’t seen any images from the offending shows, but assuming he’s not an eejit, he will have properly and sufficiently developed his show before presenting it to Cinar. He will also have gone through all the legal hoops to get a development deal with them if he did. The Gazette article mentions attempting to sell the concept in the US, so I’m sure he was on board with a contract of some sort.

Why Cinar felt the need to copy the guys show, I don’t know. According to the Wikipedia article on the firm, it has been engaged in shady dealings before, so perhaps this is not a surprise. What is surprising is that they went ahead with it anyway, it should not have been all that difficult or costly to simply acquire the original property and tweak it into the new one thereby saving everyone a bunch of time, money and hassle.

As you know, the entertainment industry is full of such lawsuits (most of which get thrown out) but a few make it through to trial. Copying an idea is extraordinarily difficult to prove in court, which is why most studios don’t even want to take the chance and refuse unsolicited scripts. The vast majority will purchase a concept and develop it themselves to prevent such lawsuits. Studios aren’t stupid but that will try to minimize costs, and acquiring a concept may fall into the category of ‘unnecessary’.

Again, it is imperative that when developing an idea, you take all the precautions necessary to save yourself and the studio from a legal headache such as this.

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