James Cameron must turn over to his former employee Eric Ryder the drafts of Cameron's screenplay for the blockbuster Avatar, in a partial victory for the unknown author handed down today by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alan Rosenfield.
Rosenfield, (a rare local who admits he didn't see Avatar) denied Ryder's other legal efforts — to view any screenplays or documents pertaining to an Avatar sequel set for 2015. Information about the sequel is considered a trade secret. Should Cameron be worried about Ryder's suit — the latest in a long string of lawsuits by writers claiming that famed movies were stolen from them? James Cameron stated in a sworn declaration:
“Unequivocally, the story for Avatar is the result of my independent creation … More specifically, as it relates to this case, in creating Avatar I did not use any ideas or materials from an individual named Eric Ryder. I have never met Mr. Ryder. Nor have I communicated with Mr. Ryder.''
Ryder, who has no profile on IMDb, claims that while working for Cameron's production company Lightstorm Entertainment Inc., he spent from 1996-98 creating his own script called K.R.Z. 2068. He claims that he had an implied agreement with LEI that it wouldn't use his work unless he was compensated and credited. Cameron's sci-fi fantasy film has grossed over $2.7 billion worldwide.
Ryder says there are too many similarities between his script and Avatar, and is seeking compensation. In December 2011, he filed a lawsuit against Cameron and Lightstorm Entertainment.
Ryder's lawyers say the film K.R.Z. 2068 was intended to be an environmentally conscious 3-D movie. The lawsuit claims that independent producer Andrew Wald in 2000 submitted Ryder's 1990s script to LEI on his behalf, and the screenwriter and employee of LEI worked on its development for nearly two years.
The K.R.Z. project envisioned a similar plot to Avatar, pitched as an animation-infused epic including corporate colonization and decimation of a distant moon's beautiful nature; a corporate spy who is set to destroy an insurrection on that moon; and anthropomorphic, organically-created beings who populate the moon.
According to City News Service, Cameron claims he wrote Avatar five years before Ryder alleges he pitched K.R.Z to Lightstorm in 2000.
There's no way to judge public sentiment in this battle, but hardcore L.A. sci-fi enthusiast Matthew Ali is skeptical of Ryder's claim.
Ali tells L.A. Weekly, “When it comes to a lawsuit like this, I find the whole situation silly. There are a lot of books and sci-fi films that are similiar to Avatar. Like the films, Ferngully: The Last Rainforest, or Princess Mononoke.”
Sci-fi enthusiasts know that a lot of story lines in the genre are very similar, prompting Ali to say that for this reason, technically speaking, it is possible that “James Cameron may have plagiarized. Honestly, I feel sorry for both people involved, because the plot wasn't that unique.”
Cameron and the producers of Avatar have been sued by
three four others — Gerald Morawski, Kelly Van, Bryan Moore and Elijah Schkeiban — who leveled somewhat similar accusations regarding Avatar. None have prevailed in court against Cameron.
Hollywood Reporter senior editor Eriq Gardner has written that among all of the hopefuls claiming that Avatar was stolen, Ryder “has the best shot at victory …”
“…because he alleges he knew Cameron as a former employee, and more importantly, is alleging the relatively sophisticated claim of breach of implied contract.”