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Court gets an earful of yoga speak

Scribe sues over vidgame

A correction was made to this article on Nov. 18, 2004.

Welcome to Hollywood, Microsoft.

Helmer-scribe Roger Avary, a one-time collaborator with Quentin Tarantino, sued the tech giant for $30 million on Monday, claiming its Xbox “Yourself!Fitness” title is a rip-off of a yoga vidgame concept he pitched the company last year.

“Yourself!Fitness” was published by Portland, Ore.,-based ResponDesign, also named as a defendant. Suit alleges that Microsoft took the idea to the company to produce it as a female-friendly title for the vidgame console.

Title is a virtual personal fitness trainer that guides users through workouts. It was first released in October for Xbox, and versions for PCs and Sony’s Playstation2 are in the works.

“Yourself!Fitness” generated largely positive reviews, but hasn’t been a top seller; no exact sales figures are available.

As Microsoft and other tech companies continue to prowl the Hollywood creative community for ideas for videogames and the Web, such suits alleging idea theft could become as commonplace as they are for films and TV.

Of course, Microsoft is a veteran of numerous intellectual property cases in the tech world, including a long-running dispute (now settled) with Apple about whether Windows ripped off its Macintosh system.

Avary’s attorney George Hedges, of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges, said the lawsuit, which was filed in Superior Court in L.A., is rooted in a cultural divide that separates Hollywood and the tech world.

“For years, Silicon Valley has been reaching out to the Hollywood creative community, and this shows that it can sometimes have some unfortunate results,” he said. “There’s something cultural going on here with Microsoft that doesn’t smell right.”

A Microsoft spokesperson said she hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment, but ResponDesign CEO Ted Spooner stated, “This suit doesn’t have any basis in reality that we know of.”

Avary’s suit alleges that he was sought out by Microsoft as part of a relationship the tech company and his agency CAA had developed. In their first meeting, Avary says Microsoft was hunting for games that could appeal to women.

Afterwards, Avary, whose wife teaches yoga, said he immediately zeroed in on the trendy exercise.

His concept, according to the complaint, was to turn the Xbox into “a means of allowing the individual player to develop body shape and fitness, and ultimately to participate in exercising in a virtual studio that would be a shared experience with multiple other participants at remote locations.”

After first pitching the concept at CAA’s offices in January 2003, Avary said that he drew up several documents fleshing out how the game would work. Meanwhile, the suit claims Avary’s agents and Microsoft unsuccessfully attempted to come to terms on a deal for developing the game, with contact breaking off in September of that year.

He then found out about “Yourself!Fitness” in a New York Times article in May. According to the suit, when CAA complained on Avary’s behalf, Microsoft responded that the game had been developed independently by ResponDesign and any similarities to Avary’s yoga proposal are completely coincidental.

Avary said this is not the typical case of a screenwriter claiming someone stole the idea for his script. “I consider this a bit different. They came to me, we met, we developed the concept together to put before their peer review and focus groups and they then went off and developed it with a third party.”

Avary’s most recent film credit was as helmer and scribe on 2002’s “The Rules of Attraction,” an adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. He recently agreed to pen a film adaptation of the Konami vidgame “Silent Hill” for producer and financier Samuel Hadida (Daily Variety, Oct. 20).

Avary began his career as a collaborator with Tarantino. He received a story credit on the Oscar-winning script for “Pulp Fiction.”

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