James Cameron Wins 'Avatar' Theft Lawsuit

34 REP DEALS James Cameron H

During the year of discussions that led to Disney announcing a deal Sept. 20 to bring "Avatar" to its theme parks, director James Cameron and producer Jon Landau were adamant that the highest-grossing film of all time not be turned into just another movie-inspired ride.

James Cameron and his Lightstorm Entertainment have prevailed in a lawsuit brought by a man who claimed his ideas were stolen for the blockbuster film Avatar.

Gerald Morawski sued in December 2011, claiming breach of contract, fraud and negligent misrepresentation. He met Cameron in 1991 and sold the famous director four items of artwork. The plaintiff asserted that during this time, he pitched a film project entitled Guardians of Eden, about an epic struggle taking place between evil mining interests that would destroy the planet to satisfy their greed and an indigenous tribe that lives at one with its rainforest environment.

Morawski alleged that he signed a nondisclosure agreement and that the contract expressly provided that he would retain his original ideas. The plaintiff demanded compensation for the ideas he allegedly shared.

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But in a 33-page summary judgment order, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret Morrow says that "because the undisputed evidence demonstrates that Cameron independently created Avatar and did not breach the Agreement, Morawski cannot demonstrate that he suffered damage as the result of misappropriation of his ideas or that he incurred costs in reliance on defendants' promise."

Read the full decision here.

Morawski's lawsuit was one of many filed by individuals alleging to have authored works appropriated for Avatar.

Cameron has adamantly denied that he has used ideas shared by any of these plaintiffs. In defense of the claims brought by Morawski, the filmmaker submitted an extraordinary 45-page sworn declaration that details how he came up with Avatar, its themes and some hint about where Avatar is going in two sequels. The testimony spans more than five decades of Cameron's life.

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Morawski might have gotten a bit further than a few of the other lawsuits already dismissed because he showed personal contact with Cameron and various Lightstorm employees.

In December 1991, for instance, Morawski had two meetings with Lightstorm employees during which notes were taken. Later that month, Lightstorm's then-president Larry Kasanoff told Morawski that the company was unable to take a development option on Guardians of Eden.

Four years later, Cameron wrote a lengthy "scripment" on Avatar and delivered it to 20th Century Fox in 1996. Cameron says he waited more than a decade to shoot the movie because the technology wasn't yet ready to develop the film as he intended.

The judge entertained Morawski's lawsuit for more than a year -- and even ordered Cameron and Fox to share financials on Avatar in the discovery phase-- but ultimately decided in Cameron's favor.

"Upon reviewing Cameron's earlier works, it is evident that each element of Avatar that was allegedly taken from Guardians of Eden was independently created by Cameron prior to his meetings with Morawski," says the ruling.

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Cameron isn't entirely finished contending with idea theft lawsuits on Avatar.

The most pressing case comes from Eric Ryder, who filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that in 1999, he wrote a story called K.R.Z. 2068, about a corporation's colonization, and worked on it for two years at the request of Lightstorm. A judge recently ruled that Cameron had to turn over scripts for Avatar to Ryder. Cameron says that he never met Ryder and asserts again that Avatar is his own independent creation.

E-mail: eriq.gardner@thr.com; Twitter: @eriqgardner