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Vancouver man files first 'Avatar' rip-off lawsuit

Jpgs for legal2 Well, it finally happened.

James Cameron has been sued for copyright infringement for allegedly stealing source material to create the international blockbuster "Avatar."

Since the first review of the film appeared in December, a popular parlor game has been figuring out exactly who will come out of the woodwork demanding royalties for helping inspire the 3D blockbuster. The makers of "Dances With Wolves"? "Pocahontas"? "Dune"?

Nope, guess again.

Lt-DemingThe first claim actually comes from a Vancouver restaurant owner, Emil Malak, who says that "Avatar" bears a striking resemblance to his screenplay, "Terra Incognita," copyrighted in 1998. In Malak's story, 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. Here's a point-by-point comparison put online by the plaintiff.

Malak says that in October 2002, he sent the script and some graphic designs to about 20 movie studios, including Cameron's Lightstorm Entertainment. He never got a response.

Now he's suing Cameron, Lightstorm and Twentieth Century Fox in B.C. Supreme Court. Fox hasn't immediately commented on the case, filed yesterday.

So, while "Avatar" may have lost to "The Hurt Locker" on Sunday, in the race to see which film sparks more lawsuits, it has just pulled even.

UPDATE: Fox has given us this statement on the lawsuit: "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."

MORE: It slipped past our radar, but there was another "Avatar' rip-off lawsuit, and it's been dismissed.