The highest-grossing movie of all time is again the subject of a copyright legal battle. Artist William Roger Dean filed a complaint against James Cameron and 20th Century Fox on Thursday seeking more than $50 million in damages over Avatar. Unlike past Avatar plaintiffs, Dean has an established pedigree. He is a well known artist who has created album covers for such big-selling bands as Yes and Asia and exhibited his fantasy landscapes and other work around the world. In fact, it is the ubiquity of his work, as well as a movie proposal based on it that he took at the 2005 Cannes Film Fest, that has Dean convinced the look of the 2009 3D sci-fi film were derived from his images. “The similarities of each such work are substantial, continuing, and direct so as to rule out any accidental copying or similarity in scenes common to the genre. The infringing portions of Avatar are so similar to Plaintiffs Works that Defendants and others employed in the preparation of the film must have had access to the Plaintiffs Works,” says his 17-page complaint (read it here) filed June 27 in U.S District Court in New York. The filing cites numerous specific examples from the world of Pandora to the foliage and creatures that populate it where Dean sees his own work. Along with copyright infringement, Dean also is claiming contributory infringement, breach of implied contact, unfair competition and unjust enrichment.
This is the fourth Avatar suit Cameron and Fox have had to deal with in the past year or so alone. In March, a federal judge gave the green light to a trial on part of screenwriter Bryant Moore’s multibillion-dollar copyright lawsuit over the movie. Moore claims that scripts of his that were submitted to Cameron’s company were used as the basis for Avatar. The case is likely to end up in front of a jury in the next couple of months. The other two suits have ended in the director and the studio’s favor. In September of last year, Cameron and Fox prevailed over a copyright infringement suit from writer Elijah Schkeiban, who claimed Avatar was ripped off from his novel and subsequent film script Bats And Butterflies. In January, the director won a summary judgment in a suit from Gerald Morawski, who also accused Cameron of ripping off his ideas to come up with the movie.
In this wide ranging compliant, Dean is not just after the $50 million or more to be proved at trial. The artist also wants an injunction, a full accounting and a court order to be posted online and elsewhere that the defendants ripped off his work. And he wants those rights enforced for future Avatar projects. “Further, upon information and belief, Defendants intend to film two (2) sequels and possibly a ‘prequel’ to Avatar, and a Walt Disney World Avatar-themed attraction, which sequels, prequel and attraction are very likely to utilize many of the original images of Plaintiff which would further continue Defendants breach of contractual obligations owed to Plaintiff,” the complaint says. Dune Entertainment, Lightstorm Entertainment and Ingenious Film Partners 2 are named as defendants along with Cameron and 20th Century Fox Film Corp and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Dean is represented by Steven M. Hayes of NYC firm Hanly Conroy Bierstein Sheridan Fisher & Hayes.