When a film brings in nearly $3 billion dollars (yes… that’s billion with a “b”), anybody who even remotely thinks that they stand a chance of getting a cut is going to come scurrying out of the woodwork. That’s what’s happened with James Cameron’s 3D epic ‘Avatar’.
First came the lawsuit from Eric Ryder, one of Cameron’s ex-employees who claimed that ‘Avatar’ was stolen from his screenplay for a film called ‘KRZ 2068’ in which Ryder claims was a 3D movie about an evil corporation pillaging the resources of a distant moon. Ryder’s screenplay featured the moon that was “lush and wonderous natural setting” and the corporation used “self-contained robotic exterior suits”. Heck! ‘KRZ 2068’ even had a role written specifically for Sigourney Weaver!
Then yesterday, the news broke that screenplay writer Bryant Moore was suing Cameron’s production company and Fox claiming that ‘Avatar’ was his idea… or rather the combination of two of them. Moore claims that his screenplays ‘Aquatica’ and ‘Descendants: The Pollination’ were full of ideas that Cameron lifted to make ‘Avatar’. Among these ideas are: bioluminescent plants, unbreathable atmostpheres, spiritual connections to the environment, gargantuan foliage, blue/green skin, and (get this)… the appearance of mist in various scenes!
Now another screenplay writer, Gerald Morawski, has tossed his hat into the ring. Morawski, an Army veteran who worked as a visual FX designer for MGM and Sony/Tristar, claims that he pitched the idea for a film to Cameron in 1991 and that those ideas were used for ‘Avatar’. Morawski’s film was titled ‘Guardians of Edan’ and is about a struggle between a destructive mining company and the indigenous peoples who are at one with and attempting to defend their rain forest home. Morawski’s main claim to theft is that ‘Guardians of Edan’ was about a hero who is a disabled military man who is believed to be the “chosen one’ by a bunch of “bioluminescent” “tree seeds”. Morawski further claims that, when he pitched his idea to Cameron in 1991, that Cameron seemed interested and even purchased some concept art from him at the time.
Looking over these lists of similarities, I’d be hard pressed to think that any of these lawsuits hold much water. There have been countless movies, in sci-fi and otherwise, about those awful corporations exploiting those poor naive indigenous peoples. Plus, I’ve seen glowing plants in more sci-fi books and movies than I care to remember. So many so that glowing plants are even listed as a TV and film trope. Without a doubt, all of these claims are too general to get any traction in court.
Case in point: Kelly Van. No one remembers this authors name now but, just last year, Van sued Cameron claiming that ‘Avatar’ stole ideas from the book ‘Sheila the Warrior: The Damned’ (2003). The book is about a woman who works for yet another evil mining corporation (Those things are just everywhere, aren’t they?) intent on staking claim to the lush world of “Tibet”. The woman moves to the new planet, falls in love with one of the natives, and helps them to fight back against her own government. The problem with Van’s case is that, like the recent lawsuits, the claims were too general. This past September, a judge ruled that “plot similarities are abstract ideas that are not protected by copyright”.
With that precedent set, don’t be surprised with all three of these new lawsuits are given the same boot from the courts.