Successful films often have a way of churning up lawsuits, and one of the most commonplace is for copyright infringement. Some joker (or less often, actual victim of theft) comes out of the woodwork alleging intellectual plagiarism and wanting his fair share. That this should happen to Avatar isn’t a surprise. What’s shocking rather, is that it’s only happened twice so far.
The first suit came from Beijing-based novelist Zhou Shaomou who claimed that his 1997 book, The Legend of the Blue Crow, shared approximately 80% of Avatar’s material. Not being the greedy type, he sought only 8% of the film’s profits, but the case was summarily dismissed by a Chinese Court.
Now another plaintiff has come forward, this time in the form of Vancouver restauranteur, Emil Malak, who claims that Avatar is suspiciously similar to his 1998 screenplay Terra Incognita. THR has it that in the script, “a tree is a focal point of a community of indigenous people and contains their collective memories. His characters are odd-looking creatures, some with braided hair and others with tails. They are protecting their home planet from militaristic human intruders who want to mine precious minerals.”
Malak says that he sent the script and appurtenant design elements to some twenty studios in 2002, including Cameron’s own Lightstorm Entertainment, but never got a response. Now he’s suing Cameron and Twentieth Century Fox in a B.C. Supreme Court, but odds are he wont fare any better than Shaomou. Fox has already issued the following statement: “James Cameron wrote the story for Avatar two years before Mr. Malak claims he wrote his work, and therefore Avatar cannot be based on Terra Incognita. We are confident that the lawsuit will be decided in our favor.”
If nothing else, you can expect the next crackpot lawsuit to stem from material written well before the mid 90’s so as to not make Fox and Cameron’s defense so easy.