‘Avatar’ Idea Theft Suit Rejected by Appellate Court

A federal appeals court rejected an artist’s claim that the plot of “Avatar” was stolen from an idea he pitched to writer-director James Cameron.

The appellate court panel sided 2-1 with Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment in their contention that “Avatar” was an independent creation, with the director drawing upon produced and unproduced projects from the 1970s and ’80s that pre-dated the time he met artist Gerald Morawski in 1991.

The decision upholds a 2013 ruling from U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow, who found that although Morawski’s project pitch — called “Guardians of Eden” — bore similarities to “Avatar,” she was convinced by Cameron’s 45-page declaration that showed how “Avatar” was his own idea.

The appeals court noted that Cameron “presented detailed and copious evidence of independent creation. Under California law, if a defendant presents ‘clear’ and ‘positive’ evidence of independent creation, any inference of use of another’s work arising from access and substantial similarity is dispelled, and a plaintiff may no longer solely rely on that inference to establish improper use.”

Judge Morgan Christen dissented, concluding that the case still had contested issues of fact that warranted going forward with the case.

Jon Landau, Cameron’s producing partner, said in a statement, “While it is unfortunate that a myriad of fortune-hunting plaintiffs seek to take credit for the success of our film, we are grateful that the courts have consistently seen through these grossly meritless claims.”


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