And Here Come The Lawsuits From People Who Claim James Cameron Ripped Them Off With Avatar

from the get-in-line dept

I saw Avatar with a friend who didn’t know much about the movie heading in, and asked me what it was about — so I gave her the succinct summary I’d heard from a few others as well: “It’s Dances With Wolves with blue people.” Of course, while many people have made similar statements, it’s also been popular to compare the movie to Pocohantas. However, that was just the start. A little while ago, the site io9 put together an amazing look at the many, many, many different movies/books/stories/artwork that Avatar has been accused of “ripping off.”

And, of course, with such a list, you’d have to expect lawsuits — and they’re starting up. A guy in China sued for $146 million, claiming that his online novel was the inspiration. That suit was quickly dismissed. But fear not, now some restaurant owner is claiming that his unmade screenplay was the real inspiration and has sued James Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox.

Or, perhaps, this is a classical story that’s been told hundreds of times before in various formats.

As with almost every lawsuit like this, it will almost certainly get dismissed quickly. However, this happens all the time with blockbuster books and movies (just look at how many times JK Rowling has been accused of “ripping off” Harry Potter, or Dan Brown accused of “ripping off” The Da Vinci Code). At some point there should be sanctions against these sorts of bogus lawsuits. In many cases, it seems clear that the people suing see it more as a publicity stunt to get press attention for their book or movie or whatever (hence the reason we’re not naming the individuals or their works in this post). In the meantime, though, is anyone taking bets on who’s next to sue?

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Comments on “And Here Come The Lawsuits From People Who Claim James Cameron Ripped Them Off With Avatar”

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DTS says:

Re: Re:

Well, it might help that the creator of the Smurfs, Pierre Culliford (otherwise known as Peyo) has been pushing up daisies for 18 years. That said, though, now we need to be surprised that his descendants (I’m not sure if he has any) haven’t decided filing a lawsuit, or perhaps some random rights representative organisation.

Joe says:

Well Avatar was just a variation of Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, Boy finds Girl, so really then, Avatar is a direct rip of of King Kong.

Seriously though, part of screenwriting is the concept that there are 7 story archetypes and pretty much all films can be categorized as such. I think Avatar would fall under the Overcoming the Monster archetype.

sehlat (profile) says:

The basic idea is pretty old to begin with.

See Poul Anderson’s “Call Me Joe” in the April 1957 issue of “Astounding Science Fiction.” Body transfer, the whole works, and yes, it’s been asked whether Cameron ripped Poul off.

To which I reply “You can’t copyright a story idea.” And Poul’s story is a lot better than the movie anyway, since it had a plot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The basic idea is pretty old to begin with.

That’s one of my favorite short stories. Admittedly, I still thought of Dances with Wolves as the first similarity.

I think Avatar’s generic and cliched script is what makes it similar to most other stories in existence. It was trite, predictable, unsurprising, and with plot elements that seem to have come right out of a Make-A-Script automation program.

Dave (profile) says:

I thought it was a World of Warcraft movie...

So a human warrior encounters a draenei female. She gets a sign from the Naaru that he is special, so she offers him an escort quest in which he must follow her back to her village without aggroing any mobs. Once he completes the quest and speaks with the faction leaders (one of whom is a draenei shaman), he goes from unfriendly to neutral. He then completes a series of quests every day which raise his esteem, or reputation, with the faction. Quests include the typical ‘go here and kill this’ types as well as gathering quests.

Once he reaches honored status, he is offered a quest which gives him his ground mount. Completing ground mount quest opens new dailies. After grinding those, he reaches revered and he must travel to Nagrand(!) to the floating rocks there and complete a quest for his flying mount. After some more daily quest grinding he reaches exalted and is accepted as a member of the faction. The most important faction reward is that the Epic Flight quest chain is unlocked, in which is he awarded a bigger, badder, faster, epic flying mount.

Finally he grows tired of playing a human warrior and pays Blizzard to change his race permanently to draenei. During the change, of course, his character is unavailable for play until the process is complete.

Blizzard should sue! Seems pretty cut and dried to me. Or maybe I just play too much.

i ate my wheatus says:

we should have the right to

hit people that have lawsuits like this over head with large Patented WOODEN object known as a baseball bat. YES we should be able to knock you silly for being silly.
We will need to begin hiring more nurses and doctors and thus create a new economy to replace need for lawyers.

this industry will be known as BATS ( Boy Areyou That Stupid )
repeat offenders will be sent to the lead pipe organization to get one more wack before being removed entirely form the gene pool.

Jake (user link) says:

A Writer's Perspective

I should point out that it’s possible one of these claims is actually true, if not all that likely. That does not mean James Cameron or 20th Century Fox should lose these lawsuits.

There’s no such thing as a truly original story; every writer takes inspiration from things they’ve seen or read elsewhere, but remixed and rearranged with the aim of keeping people from naming all your sources of inspiration until at least halfway through. If it’s obvious by end of the first chapter/pilot episode/first twenty minutes of the film, you need to level up some; if it’s obvious before that point you’re not even making an effort to do anything transformative, and other, less lazy writers will be annoyed by it. If you make ridiculous amounts of money anyway we will be even more annoyed. With some justification, in my humble opinion.

But, and I cannot emphasise this enough, a world in which it is possible to sue someone for annoying you is not a world that anyone sane wants to live in.

knowwhatimean? says:


C’mon now. I understand if maybe Avatar didn’t have enough complexities, or you found it had too many familiar story beats, but to say it had no plot is just a flat out lie. It certainly does have a plot, and a classic one at that. People make it seem like the movie was 2 1/2 hours of nothing, however it had WAY more of a story then recent blockbusters like Transformer 2, 2012, Star Trek. I mean, did you miss about how the movie was about a crippled ex-marine taking over his brothers spot in a science program on a distant moon? How he got seperated from his group and encountered the navi? The constant back and forth between worlds, falling in love, exploring Pandora, and giving recon to Quaritch? Then him losing both respect of the humans and Na’vi, forcing to redeem himself. That is very much a story, and quite a solid one. There’s also plenty of great sci-fi ideas explored. If you wanted to argue there was some cheesy dialogue, I’ll happily agree, but to say it had no plot is DUMB.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: lies

If you really think Avatar’s plot was significantly developed or made sense or had any semblance of quality, well, I feel sorry for you. I think you must not have exposed yourself to very much good literature if your taste is so non-discriminating.

Yes, all those other movies also had terrible plots. That doesn’t mean Avatar didn’t have one as well.

Yesterday I read Lucius Shepard’s blistering review of movies released in 2003 (which included monsters like the last 2 Matrix movies), and it feels even more relevant today.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: lies

A perfect excerpt from the link in my above reply:

JUGHEAD: Sorry, I got confused, because I have a feeling the next little while is going to be about wandering around a jungle being chased by one ridiculously hostile creature after another. Is there anything in this movie that isn’t derived from other movies?

RED-SHIRT: I keep it straight by remembering that the animals here are way more colourful.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: lies

I’ve personally never said it had no plot. I said the plot is the very definition of banal. I saw everything that happened just by watching the trailer. It tried,/i> to have a good plot and spent a lot of time on it, but the plot just plain sucked, it wasn’t anything new at all; it was overly derivative. I would have preferred if they threw out the plot and just filled the rest of the movie with action, then I could at least say “It’s a shameless action flick, what do you expect?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: lies

But I disagree entirely. The plot is far too muddled and internally inconsistent to be “classic”. It’s merely entirely derivative, which is something else. It’s not solid, and no redemption occurs. Redemption would be coming back to what was once lost. That doesn’t happen in the movie in any form.

People like to dismiss lazy scriptwriting with “well, what do you expect?”. I expect a better script, because it is just not that hard to do. It is not difficult to shore up the glaring inconsistencies and nonsense in Avatar’s plot. The thing reads like it was written by an 8-year old (actually the premise is something Cameron has wanted to do since he was young). As someone in that thread I linked mentioned, a sensible plot is not an unreachable ideal, it is a starting point.

Ask yourself this: why would you put SO much effort into the graphics of a movie, and deliver it with such an obviously terrible script? It’s like having a hamburger with an incredible scrumptious bun, and a rotted meat patty.

I could go on and on but others have already said it better in so many places. Great Sci-Fi concepts weren’t explored. Plot threads went nowhere. Characters were irrelevant. Moral actions had no context and were never explored. Opportunities for dramatic tension were relentlessly ignored. Even the fact that the hero was in a wheelchair didn’t actually matter at all in the movie.

It’s just a movie with incredibly lavish graphics, and a remarkably terrible plot.

knowwhatImean says:

And despite generic story beats, I firmly believe that the film was so visually overwhelming that audiences needed to feel comfortable with it to accept the film. But still, if you can name a movie that focuses on a love story between aliens (CGI ones nonetheless) in a live-action movie, please point it out. It’s never been done before. It seems like people give so much other generic reused plots a pass (Star Trek, Star Wars??), but hold it against Avatar SO hard because it really was revolutionary in many ways..but of course that’s never enough. Really it’s about the plot execution anyway, which was excellent in Avatar…what’s cliche is that snobby filmgoers dismiss a story because it wasn’t “unpredictable”. Give me a break.

Jake (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s actually an engineering term; if someone comes up with a mechanically sound design that nevertheless requires a material more strong and light and/or with a higher melting point than anything currently known to man, they refer to it as ‘needing unobtanium’.
Presumably, the in-story justification is that when someone figured out this new metal’s properties, some major engineering project had found their unobtanium and the nickname stuck. They might have run with “adamantine” if they wouldn’t inevitably be accused of ripping off The X-Men.

Ross Nicholson (profile) says:

Who wrote Avatar?

I provided the stories for Avatar and Titanic, most of the technological concepts in the movie. Living Avatar, tree communication, braided queue plug-in, etc. I spent less than a day working on the concepts.

wrote: OF LOVE B0030MIG24 Hillary’s Angel B002TSB0ZU
Invented “Inclusive.”
Proposed mec. drug trials ($100-200 million/yr to USF), LightsOnTampa! Floating Riverwalk WaterTaxi Crosstown Xway bridge to StPete w/rail link&airport for MacDillAFB.
Found pheromone cure for crime, addiction & perversion
Proposed GA’s HOPE ScholarshipProgram (BrightFutures).
Poems for DeadPoetsSociety &sax solo, lyrics for “Light&Day” Spotless Mind
Filming Star Wars was my idea
Stories,characters,speeches & concepts (as TheForce,TheJedi,TheCode)AFewGoodMen,Aladdin,Alexander,AmericanBeauty,AmericanPresident,Apocalypto,Armageddon,AustinPowers,Avatar,TheAviator,BacktotheFuture,Bandits,Batman,BeautifulMind,BenjaminButton,BigFish,BigLabowski,BourneIdentity(myhandprint),Braveheart,ABronxTale,BruceAlmighty,CastAway,CatchMeifYouCan,CharlieandtheChocolateFactory,ChroniclesofNarnia,CityofAngels,CrouchingTigerHiddenDragon,DaVinciCode,TheDayAfterTomorrow,DeepImpact,Elf,EnemyoftheState,EternalSunshineoftheSpotlessMind,FindingNemo,ForrestGump,GalaxyQuest,Gattaca,Gladiator,GreenMile,GoodWillHunting,Hellboy,Hook,Identity,IndependenceDay,IngloriousBasterds,IRobot,TheIsland,Jaws(styrofoamcup),JourneytotheCenteroftheEarth,Juno,LemonySnicket,LOR,LostinTranslation,TheMask,TheMatrix,MeettheParents,TheMexican,MinorityReport,Munich,MysticRiver,MysticPizza,NationalTreasure,NeverBeenKissed,NightattheMuseum,PassionoftheChrist,ThePatriot,PiratesoftheCaribbean,PrincessFrog,RaidersoftheLostArk,RemembertheTitans,RoadtoPerdition,RunawayBride,SavingPrivateRyan,Schindler’sList,ShawshankRedeption,Shrek,Signs,SimpsonsMovie,6thSense,SleepyHollow,SomethingAboutMary,SpaceCowboys,Spiderman,TheTerminal,300,Titanic,Troy,TrumanShow,Unbreakable,VforVendetta,VanillaSky,TheVillage,WagtheDog,WaroftheWorlds,WeddingCrashers,WhatWomenWant,WhatLiesBeneath,WildWildWest.MorningEdition,Simpsons,TheVisitor,TouchedbyanAngel,Bones,Justice,House,Lost,Numbers,Kings,Fringe

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

you should put the names and book names of the people suing
you may not be interested but i am, Im sure other blogs actually list thier sources and explain in detail their position, seems like you got tired and didnt want to finish your article

Heh. I explained clearly why I did not want to do that. Not because I “wasn’t interested” but because I didn’t want to give them free advertising, which is what their lawsuits are about. If you want to find the names of the books and the authors, there’s some blue text, which is something called a link. You can click on it and magically the answers will appear.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

what so now you dont link to the stories you leach from?

Did you just leave your brain at the door or something? you didn’t even finish the sentence. Mike put the link to the io9 article in the last part of the sentence that said “the many, many, many different movies/books/stories/artwork that Avatar has been accused of “ripping off.” “

perhaps you should get your eyes or your brain checked.

Justin says:

I’m fairly certain Cameron drew heavy inspiration from, and in some cases outright ripped off, several older stories. Looking at the similarities between Avatar and Firekind (along with the fact that Firekind was published right before Cameron started working on his first version of Avatar), it’s pretty compelling stuff.

But, so what? Was the creator of Firekind at all damaged by this? No. If anything he’s getting some free publicity and sympathy from his friends. The world got a great visual movie to enjoy, the studios made a lot of money, nobody was hurt, everybody wins. Hell, if Cameron ripped off ideas from other people he probably doesn’t even remember it. The human mind is funny that way.

This whole obsession with who ripped off who is ridiculous. Some of the most beloved works of art are shameless regurgitations of what has come before. Shakespeare, anyone?

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