Movie Talk

James Cameron Wins ‘Avatar’ Plagiarism Lawsuit

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Photo: 20th Century Fox

Steven Bach summed up one of the unwritten but enduring laws of the movie business in his book “Final Cut” with four words: “People only sue hits.” Following that bit of wisdom, it’s not surprising that a few people have gone to court claiming they played an unacknowledged role in the making of James Cameron’s mega-blockbuster “Avatar,” but a federal judge has ruled in favor of writer and director Cameron over Gerald Morawski, an artist and screenwriter who claims to have pitched an idea very similar to “Avatar” to Cameron in 1991.

In a decision handed down by U.S. District Judge Margaret Morrow, the judge declared, “Because the undisputed evidence demonstrates that Cameron independently created ‘Avatar’ and did not breach the Agreement, Morawski cannot demonstrate that he suffered damage as the result of misappropriation of his ideas or that he incurred costs in reliance on defendants' promise.”

In his suit, Morawski alleged that after selling some artwork to Cameron in 1991 (the year the director released “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” the sequel to his 1984 breakthrough hit), he discussed a script he had written called “Guardians of Eden,” about corporate interests battling indigenous tribes over the rights to the rainforest. According to Morawski, Cameron took an official meeting with him and Cameron insisted the artist sign a non-disclosure agreement about their talks over the project before he and his production company finally turned it down.

However, Cameron insisted in court that “Avatar” came entirely from his own imagination, and submitted a detailed sworn declaration, running forty-five pages, in which he reveals where he hatched up his ideas for the project (some formulated while writing screenplays for other movies), and even dropped a few hints about future episodes in the “Avatar” franchise.

Morrow’s decision is a major victory for Cameron, and he released a statement, which read in part, “ ‘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.” However, this isn’t the end of Cameron’s legal battle to defend his work and his good name – two other writers, Eric Ryder and Bryan Moore, have filed separate suits claiming “Avatar” lifted elements from their work. What was it that Steven Bach said, again? Oh, yeah … “People only sue hits.”

Check out the trailer for 'Avatar':

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