PARIS — A French appeals court has found James Cameron and Gallic helmer Claude Zidi guilty of plagiarism after a drawn-out legal battle over authorship of the 1994 hit “True Lies.”
Cameron, however, won’t have to fork over a cent in compensation, the court specified, because he bought the remake rights to 1991 French film “La totale” from Zidi in good faith.
Screenwriter Lucien Lambert claimed “La totale” was based on his script “Emilie,” written in 1982.
He will receive an undisclosed amount from the $15 million Zidi netted after “True Lies” grossed in the region of $375 million, Lambert’s lawyer Olivier Meyer said Wednesday.
Meyer called the verdict a “victory of David over Goliath” for his 72-year-old client, a little-known TV screenwriter and playwright.
“But unfortunately, Mr. Lambert has been robbed of his American dream. Every screenwriter would love to have their name on the credits of a Hollywood film, and it never happened.”
Lambert initially lost his case against Zidi when a court in 2001 ruled that he couldn’t prove “Emilie” pre-dated “La totale.”
Lambert’s lawyers wrote to warn Cameron that they intended to appeal and that he could also be cited in the case. But Cameron did not want to settle out of court.
The appeal court’s decision June 4 was based on new evidence from Gallic actress Sylvie Joly that she had received Lambert’s script in 1982, a decade before “La totale” was made, and saved it along with other screenplays writers had shown her.
Incredibly, although “La totale” was a hit in France, Lambert only became aware of the film’s existence when he saw it on TV seven years after its theatrical release.
“It is not very nice for James Cameron, who is really not at fault in all of this, but a moral judgment has been made nonetheless,” said Meyer. “When you buy something, you have to know where it has come from.”
Lawyers for Cameron and Zidi are expected to appeal to the Court de Cassation, which can overturn the verdict for technical reasons.