U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow granted summary judgment in favor of Cameron and his Lightstorm Entertainment, ruling that while a project that Gerald Morawski pitched to Cameron in 1991 bore similarities to “Avatar,” the director independently created those like elements before his meetings with Morawski.
In defending the case, Cameron’s legal team submitted a list of 1970s- and ’80s-era produced and unproduced projects from which the director drew upon, including “Chrysalis,” “Mother” and even draft scripts of “Rambo II.”
Morrow wrote that “all the alleged similarities identified by Morawski can be traced to pre-pitch ideas Cameron developed independently or derived from well-known historical events.” Cameron filed a 45-page declaration to the court detailing how “Avatar” came about, tracing its “conceptual fabric” as far back as when he was in elementary school.
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In a statement, Cameron said, “It is a sad reality of our business that whenever there is a successful film, people come out of the woodwork claiming that their ideas were used. ‘Avatar’ was my most personal film, drawing upon themes and concepts that I had been exploring for decades. I am grateful that the court saw through the blatant falsity of Mr. Morawski’s claim.”
Cameron has successfully defended other claims of idea theft, including writer Elijah Schkeiban’s claim that “Avatar” was a ripoff of his screenplay “Bats and Butterflies.” A federal judge threw out the suit after failing to find substantial similarities.
Another case, filed by science fiction writer Eric Ryder, is pending in Los Angeles Superior Court. He claims that in 1999, he pitched the idea for a project called “KRZ 2068” that bore “striking similarities” to “Avatar.”
Morawski, whose project was called “Guardians of Eden,” claimed that Cameron breached an implied-in-fact agreement, as well as fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
But Morrow concluded that Cameron’s ideas before 1991 included such things as a disabled protagonist “transporting his consciousness to another form, evil mercenaries attempting to exploit resources in a jungle-like setting, a jungle containing bioluminescent plants and unusual animals, a protagonist fighting alongside natives against a superior fighting force and a sentient planet.”
She also rejected Morawski’s contention that Cameron did not develop the ultimate story until after he heard Morawski’s pitch. She wrote that “it is clear that Cameron used more than just isolated characters and concepts from his earlier works. He incorporated entire themes and story arcs from prior works in his ‘Avatar’ scriptment.”