In Case You Were Wondering: James Cameron Is Still Winning Cases Over Avatar

from the neverending-story dept

The legacy of the movie Avatar was supposed to be about bringing the 3D movie era back. Or perhaps it was supposed to be strictly about box office numbers. It perhaps even should have been about James Cameron’s place in the Hollywood pantheon. Too bad, then, that it’s more likely the legacy of Avatar will be about just how many people attempted to sue claiming the movie copied everything from everyone ever.

Given that this has been going on for roughly half a decade, perhaps you thought the course had been run. You’d be wrong, as it was only recently that yet another lawsuit was dismissed over claims that the movie world of Pandora was copied from the artwork of William Roger Dean.

The defendants, including Cameron, Twentieth Century Fox, and Lightstorm Entertainment, moved to dismiss Dean’s amended complaint, which a federal judge granted Wednesday. U.S. District Judge Jesse M. Furman called Dean’s attempts to show substantial similarity between the works “plainly misguided.”

“Many of the ‘Avatar images’ he includes are not from the film itself, but are taken from books about or derived from Avatar (including, for example, ‘The Making of Avatar’ and ‘The Art of Avatar),” Furman wrote. “By plaintiff’s own admission, those books are ‘not part of the claims in this case.'”

It’s an interesting strategy to sue someone for copying your work on the basis of images not from the movie you claim is infringing. Sort of like if I got mad at my brother for stealing my chicken wing and demonstrated the chicken wing’s worth by pointing to a live chicken. Or something. Look, I don’t know, but the misapplication of the works in question isn’t even the point, because what Dean is suing over is essentially the concept of floating land masses in a fictional world, which is an idea, not a specific expression. Judge Furman noted as much when commenting on Dean’s manipulation of the images in question.

Furman called several of Dean’s claims “misguided,” noting that as evidence, the artist included images from “books about or derived from Avatar” rather than the film. The judge also noted that images from the film were cropped, rotated and otherwise taken “out of context” in an attempt to make them look similar to Dean’s paintings, which were in turn also manipulated by the artist.

Here’s a nice little tip for any of you out there that might be considering filing this kind of lawsuit: if you have to twist and turn and crop and tweek every image on both sides of your copyright case, you’re essentially disproving the infringement in the first place. Probably best to just not file the lawsuit and get back to making art, yes?

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Comments on “In Case You Were Wondering: James Cameron Is Still Winning Cases Over Avatar”

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17 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

In thinking more about this, I wonder if some of these “hey, they stole my ideas!” lawsuits start with a person who confuses copying in terms of copyright (i.e. making a copy of an exact expression) and the common usage of the term copying to denote “doing what someone else is doing.”

Dean’s arguments seem to amount to, “hey, I was the guy who was known for these fantastical album covers and they used similar fantastical elements in their movie. They copied me!”

If you draw a cat and start selling copies of that cat drawing, anyone else can also draw a cat and start selling copies of their cat drawings. Just because you draw a top hat on a cat doesn’t mean other people can’t draw a top hat on a cat too. You want to draw zombie cats or superhero cats or dog-cat hybrids? That’s fine. You just can’t copyright the idea of drawing those types of cats (or any other subject matter).

And if someone else draws the same concept as you, but does it better and sells more of it, you don’t deserve a share of their profits just because you “drew it first.”

David says:

Now that you say it

“World consisting of flying rocks” reminds me of “The Shattered World” from Michael Reaves.

Except that it is a really good book rather than Pocahontas in blue. And there is a reason for the flying rocks other than “looks good in 3D”, too. And it’s part of the plot, too. You could not just swap it out for something else looking impressive.

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