James Cameron Vanquishes Artist in ‘Avatar’ Copyright Lawsuit

The Hallelujah Mountains from James Cameron's Avatar compared to Roder Dean's Floating Islands.
The Hallelujah Mountains from James Cameron's Avatar compared to Roder Dean's Floating Islands.

A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit against James Cameron filed by an artist who claimed that the 2009 movie Avatar ripped off his artwork, reports Courthouse News.

British artist William Roger Dean is known primarily for album art featuring fantastical landscapes created for prog rock bands such as Yes, Uriah Heep, and Asia. Last year, he accused Cameron of lifting visual elements from his paintings for elements of the fictional planet of Pandora, where the blockbuster action film is set. Dean singled out his painting Floating Islands as the inspiration for Avatar‘s Hallelujah Mountains, and pointed to his other paintings of naturally-occurring stone arches and flying creatures as further evidence of copyright infringement.

In response to the suit, the defendants, who, in addition to Cameron, included Twentieth Century Fox and Lightstorm Entertainment, had moved to dismiss the case, a motion that US district judge Jesse M. Furman granted this week.

The initial complaint, which asked for $50 million in damages, alleged that “the similarities of each such work are substantial, continuing, and direct so as to rule out any accidental copying or similarity in scenes common to the genre,” and that the filmmakers must have used Dean’s artwork for reference during production. Unfortunately for Dean, Furman disagreed.

“The works are indisputably similar insofar as they present the natural world in a fantastical way by depicting airborne land masses,” Furman wrote. “But plaintiff does not have a monopoly on the idea of floating or airborne land, an idea that has been around since at least 1726, when Jonathan Swift published his classic Gulliver’s Travels.” He went on to described Dean’s claims as “plainly misguided” and dismissed the case.

Cameron, for his part, was asked by Entertainment Weekly back in 2010 if a Yes album was the inspiration for floating mountains, and admitted that “it might have been…back in my pot-smoking days.”


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