'Cowboys & Aliens' Comic Book Author Sues Universal, DreamWorks for Copyright Infringement

Steven John Busti claims his story was ripped off to create the Jon Favreau-directed film.
Zade Rosenthal/Universal Studios and DreamWorks II Distribution Co. LLC

Cowboys & Aliens keeps causing headaches for Universal and DreamWorks. The Jon Favreau-directed summer sci-fi western disappointed at the box office, grossing just $175 million worldwide despite costing about that much to produce. Now the studios have been hit with a lawsuit by a comic book artist who claims the movie infringes his 1995 story, also called Cowboys & Aliens.

Steven John Busti filed suit in U.S. District Court in Texas on Wednesday against Universal, DreamWorks, production company Platinum Studios and its chairman Scott Mitchell Rosenberg

Busti says he published a preview of his story in 1994 and followed it with the actual Cowboys & Aliens in the January 1995 issue of Bizarre Fantasy #1, but he didn't register them with the copyright office until September 2011.

He alleges that in 1997, Rosenberg and Platinum produced a one-sheet featuring a cowboy being chased by an alien, a promotional effort that led to Universal and DreamWorks buying film rights and Platinum producing a graphic novel series in 2006 that looked a lot like his work.

"Defendants' Cowboys & Aliens graphic novel contains striking similarities to Plaintiff's copyrighted Cowboys and Aliens work including an alien spaceship zooming overhead the main cowboy character, [and] the spacecraft being discovered by Native American warriors (specifically Apache) who are then attacked," states the complaint, first reported by TMZ.

The film was released in July but Busti waited until August to send a letter to Universal complaining about the supposed infringement. He says the studio never responded. We've reached out to Universal for comment.

Cowboys fighting aliens might seem like a novel concept but, as this Wall Street Journal article points out, there's a long history of the sci-fi/western juxtoposition. Still, the Universal movie took a long, windy path to the screen, as THR noted last year, so perhaps some of Busti's work slipped in. There's a very high bar for copyright infringement, though.

Email: Matthew.Belloni@thr.com

Twitter: @THRMattBelloni