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?

Filed Under: avatar, ideas, james cameron, lawsuits


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    S. T. Stone, 19 Sep 2014 @ 6:00pm

    At least he's not suing Cameron over Avatar’s similarities to every other White Man’s Burden film.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Sep 2014 @ 8:45am

      Re:

      "White Man’s Burden"

      Oh - is this why many cringe at the mention of this movie?
      And here I thought the movie was about how corporations don't give a shit about the environment or anyone who lives there.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 19 Sep 2014 @ 6:17pm

    I take this is about more than...

    ...newer expressions of the traditional mighty whitey story, a la Tarzan or The Last of the Mohicans, where white guy proves that he's better at being native than even the natives?

    There are people who want to admit to having written such stories?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      jupiterkansas (profile), 19 Sep 2014 @ 6:23pm

      Re: I take this is about more than...

      Titanic: A movie about how some poor scamp is just as good as the wealthy passengers... in a movie that focuses almost exclusively on the wealthy passengers.

      Cameron's not exactly subtle with his rich, white elitism. At least he has strong female characters.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2014 @ 6:38pm

      Re: I take this is about more than...

      This was just about the artistic depictions of certain elements of the alien world of Pandora. The story, cliche elements and all, is irrelevant to this lawsuit.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      techflaws (profile), 19 Sep 2014 @ 9:58pm

      Re: I take this is about more than...

      Try the Smurf version of Pocahontas.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2014 @ 6:43pm

    Another win for the idea/expression dichotomy. Even unoriginal hacks with $200 million+ production budgets get to reuse common cultural concepts without having to pay a fee to others who have likewise used those concepts.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Colin, 19 Sep 2014 @ 6:59pm

    Avatar was not a very good movie at all. If I had written what it had ostensibly copied, I wouldn't go about publicizing that...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Sep 2014 @ 8:12pm

    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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    scotts13 (profile), 19 Sep 2014 @ 9:27pm

    Honestly, though...

    The whole movie DOES look like a Roger Dean illustration. Not that the resemblance is necessarily actionable, but even from the previews I wondered if Dean was involved.

    Unsurprising, though - everything else in the film is borrowed, too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 19 Sep 2014 @ 10:23pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Harold K, 21 Sep 2014 @ 9:29am

    Turn about is fair play?

    Since legacy entertainment has waged a war against all sorts of people and organizations protecting "its rights", and they have ended up with a permission culture which is stifeling creativity, does it now serve them right that they be sued by everyone whom they did not get permission from?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Marvin (profile), 21 Sep 2014 @ 11:40am

    A little late for lawsuits

    Gulliver went to the Island of Laputa. so should we see a Suit from Jonathan Swift to all parties for stealing the idea of floating rocks?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 on a mobile device (profile), 23 Sep 2014 @ 8:04pm

    New Sci-Fi story idea:

    Tin Man's Burden

    An all-purpose robot serving as am exploraton probe happens upon a younger civilization and outperforms them in every way possible.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Shop Now: Techdirt Logo Gear
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.