Dudley dragged to court

An eight-foot-tall dragon named Dudley – a much-loved character to thousands of young tv viewers – stands at the hub of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit filed against producer Breakthrough Films, public broadcaster tvontario as well as the Ontario Ministry of Energy.

Danielle Jones, a Toronto-based freelance graphic artist and designer, claims to be the author of the original artwork that the popular tv character Dudley The Dragon is based on. Her suit contends that she is the owner of nearly all residual copyright and asks that she be awarded her share of projected licensing and merchandising revenues from the Dudley character. Her claim suggests Dudley’s overall value at $1 billion.

Filed in the Ontario Court General Division, Jones’ suit says that (through a communications firm) she was commissioned by the Ontario Ministry of Energy to provide drawings upon which a proposed character named Dudley The Dragon would be based. Dudley was to be the mascot for the ministry’s ‘The Conserving Kingdom’ educational program that would tour elementary schools in the province.

Jones says she was paid $1,600 in total for her work, which she understood was to be used only to provide direction to a costume maker and to appear on posters and various printed matter regarding the ministry’s program.

The plaintiff claims to have no knowledge as to how Dudley The Dragon ended up as a popular children’s television show produced by Breakthrough, but is seeking damages and revenues from the producer, the Ministry of Energy and tvontario.

The suit also asks for an injunction preventing any use of the Dudley The Dragon character, including licensing, selling, manufacturing and distribution.

When contacted, Jones’ lawyer, Gordon Zimmerman of Borden & Elliot, declined comment on the suit which has yet to go to discovery.

The reason that Jones’ suit names all three parties is because at one time or another, Energy, tvo and Breakthrough all owned the rights to Dudley The Dragon.

In its statement of defence, the Ministry of Energy says that while Jones may have been commissioned to do some artwork for the ministry, her work was not chosen to be the basis of Dudley. Energy also says that Jones is not the author, creator or owner of Dudley The Dragon and that the character is an original creation of the ministry.

Wayne Mercer, counsel for Energy did not return phone calls seeking comment.

On Feb. 3 1989, Energy says all copyright, ancillary and proprietary rights to Dudley were transferred to tvo. In turn, tvo assigned all of its rights to Dudley in writing to Breakthrough in 1992.

Heather Mitchell, corporate counsel for Breakthrough, denies Jones’ claims and says that the $1-billion figure does not match the company’s own confidential Dudley revenue projections.

‘We’d like it a lot if we’d made a billion dollars,’ says Mitchell.

Mitchell also points out that her client Breakthrough and principals Ira Levy and Peter Williamson had never heard of Jones or seen the artwork in question when they were retained by the ministry to produce a film in 1985 based on the play titled The Conserving Kingdom, in which Dudley was one of the characters.

Breakthrough’s statement of defence reads, ‘The Ministry advised Breakthrough that the Ministry owned the copyright in the play. . . Karen Waterman was the sole author of the script to the play and the creator of its characters. The Ministry also informed Breakthrough that Dudley the Dragon’s costume was built from a model created by Jim Rankin.’

The Ministry has filed a cross claim against Breakthrough alleging that if Jones’ claims are proven true, then a contract signed to produce the 1985 film The Conserving Kingdom was violated.

‘In the contract, Breakthrough warranted to Ontario that the work would not infringe upon or violate any copyright or any other proprietary right of any third party. Breakthrough agreed to indemnify the Ministry for all claims arising out of or in any way related to their agreement or the work,’ says Energy’s cross claim. ‘Breakthrough further agreed that all intellectual property including copyrights in the work would be the property of the Ministry.’

Both Breakthrough and tvo’s statements of defence point out a lack of substantial similarity between Dudley and Jones’ artwork submitted as evidence. Though both are dragons, they have different skin color, facial structure, teeth fingers, clothing, torso and body. Jones’ dragon has horns and wings while the current Dudley does not.

Produced by Toronto-based Breakthrough, The Adventures of Dudley The Dragon debuted in 1992 and is seen on tvo, ytv, Showcase and on some 240 pbs stations in the u.s. His image has been licensed for reproduction on home video cassettes, greeting cards and kids’ toys and games among other merchandise.