Since the release of Avatar in 2009, James Cameron has been sued a number of times for plagiarism. While Avatar isn’t the most original movie ever made — there are very familiar story elements from Pocahontas, John Carter of Mars, and FernGully: The Last Rainforest — Cameron has always claimed his 3D spectacle was not plagiarized from anyone’s existing ideas or story. A California state court judge apparently agrees with the Academy Award-winning director and recently threw out a lawsuit against Cameron from 2011.
According to Variety, the lawsuit in question is from Eric Ryder, a former employee of James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment. Ryder claims he was developing a script called K.R.Z. 2068 that had very similar characteristics to Cameron’s Avatar. He also had treatments, photos, 3D imagery, and characters to back up his claims.
The lawsuit described Ryder’s film as an “environmentally themed 3-D epic about a corporation’s colonization and plundering of a distant moon’s lush and wondrous natural setting.” Also, the corporation described would be a mining company and would bring the film’s protagonist to the new moon. Ryder added that the 3D wouldn’t be tacked on, but rather integral to the film’s story and themes.
Susan Bryant-Deason, a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, granted Cameron’s motion for summary judgment, while she also found that Cameron created Avatar independently. Bryant-Deason cited a previous lawsuit against Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment from Gerald Morawski, who also tried to sue the Avatar director for plagiarism. In that case, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow granted summary judgment in favor of Cameron as well. Gerald Morawski claimed that Cameron stole his idea for Avatar after a pitch he made to Lightstorm Entertainment in 1991.
Cameron released the following statement about the court’s ruling:
‘Sadly, it seems that whenever a successful motion picture is produced, there are people who try to ‘get rich quick’ by claiming their ideas were used. Several such claims have been asserted in connection with Avatar. I am grateful that our courts have consistently found these claims to be meritless.’
‘As I have previously stated, Avatar was my most personal film, drawing upon themes and concepts that I had been exploring for decades,’ Cameron added. ‘I am very appreciative that the Court rejected the specious claim by Mr. Ryder that I used any of his ideas in my film.’
Eric Ryder pitched his idea for K.R.Z. 2068 and was told to stop working on the project because Lightstorm Entertainment felt there was no audience for the material. After the release of Avatar in 2009, Ryder was dumbfounded when he realized that many of his story elements appeared in the 3D film. Of course, Avatar went on to be the highest grossing movie of all time, with an unheard of $2.7 billion worldwide box office gross.
It’s commonplace for lawsuits to pop up after the success of a major motion picture, especially around a film like Avatar. James Cameron is not new to these lawsuits either. Science fiction author Harlan Ellison sued James Cameron over The Terminator, claiming the 1984 genre film borrowed heavily from two Ellison-scripted episodes of The Outer Limits: “Soldier,” which was adapted from his short story titled “Soldier From Tomorrow” and “Demon with a Glass Hand.” The lawsuit was settled for $65,000 and there was a thank you credit added to the film.
There’s actually a long list of lawsuits against James Cameron that range from The Terminator to Avatar and everything in between. Sci-fi outlet io9 compiled a great list about each lawsuit. It’s lengthy, but worth the read.