James Cameron wins Avatar copyright case
September 18, 2012 1 Comment
Judge rules that Elijah Schkeiban’s screenplay for Bats and Butterflies was ‘not substantially similar’ to sci-fi blockbuster
Had Elijah Schkeiban succeeded in his copyright case against James Cameron over the blockbuster film Avatar, he might just have been in line for a large payout. However, a US judge yesterday dashed the novelist and screenwriter’s hopes of securing a share of the film’s $2.7bn (£1.7bn) box-office gross by throwing out the case. Cameron’s lawyers had successfully argued that it is not possible to copyright such elements as a “weak hero” and a plot twist in which “the bad guys attack the good guys”, reports The Wrap blog.
In his judgment, US district court Judge Manuel Real said Schkeiban’s screenplay for a film titled Bats and Butterflies, based on his own series of children’s books, was “not substantially similar” to Avatar. The screenwriter had complained that Cameron borrowed multiple plot elements from his script, which he said the director must have been passed by a third party in the film industry. However, Real ruled that Bats and Butterflies was “a straightforward children’s story that lacks the depth and complexity of the moods expressed in Avatar”.
Lawyers for Cameron had focused on elements of Schkeiban’s argument in which he suggested that wheelchair-bound Avatar hero Jake Sully was based on his own protagonist, a small boy, because both were physically “weak”. He also argued that a segue in which the bad guys turn on the good guys was based on his own similar twist.
“Even at this basic level of idea, the characters differ,” Cameron’s lawyers successfully argued. “Being seen as weak is not protectable expression.” They later added: “Bad guys attacking good guys is not copyrightable.”
Schkeiban had also claimed that the multi-levelled homes inhabited by the Na’vi tribe on Avatar’s moon, Pandora, were comparable to the plants and trees seen in Bats and Butterflies. “The Na’vi can also experience their ancestors through a connection with sacred trees,” Cameron’s lawyers responded. “In contrast, the plants in Bats and Butterflies are just window-dressing.”
Schkeiban’s case is just one of a half dozen made against Cameron for copyright over Avatar since 2009. So far, none of the plaintiffs have succeeded in their actions.
Given the reasoning in this case, it appears that if someone like Poul Anderson, the writer of a book called ‘Call Me Joe’, brought a similar case against Cameron, he would have won it hands down. The similarities between Anderson’s ‘Call Me Joe’ and ‘Avatar’ are very specific (e.g. a disabled man operates an artificial body) and indisputable.
Someone today commented: ‘Avatar has as much depth and complexity as McDonald’s Happy Meal’ – kinda funny, don’t you think? especially since its kinda rings the truth 🙂