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9th Circuit considers jury trial in another Avatar copyright case

As frequent readers of our blog know, director James Cameron has been at the center of several lawsuits regarding his film 'Avatar,' which was released in 2009. Outlined in a September blog post, the five lawsuits all contain claims of copyright infringement, accusing Cameron of stealing the 'Avatar' story from other artists.

Although Cameron has been able to prevail against the accusations thus far -- the five lawsuits have all been dismissed by the courts -- the 9th Circuit Court is now considering a jury trial for at least one of the cases, which was appealed in November 2013. The question before the jury will be whether or not Cameron took the idea pitched by another writer in 1991 to make the film 'Avatar.' According to the lawsuit, both Cameron's storyline and the one pitched by the plaintiff in the case are "substantially similar," which is a conclusion the plaintiff is hoping a jury will come to as well.

The real challenge in this case is the fact that, according to the United States Copyright Office, ideas do not qualify for copyright protection, which means the plaintiff in this case may not have a claim for copyright infringement as the other lawsuits had. Knowing this, the plaintiff is instead looking to contract law to hold Cameron and Cameron's production company, Lightstorm Entertainment, accountable for violating an expressed contract regarding the writer's movie idea.

Unlike the other cases, the outcome of this case could rest in the hands of a trial jury if one is granted by the 9th Circuit. If this occurs, then it will be up to the jury to decide whether Cameron did in fact violate the terms of a contractual agreement by using the ideas of another writer for his own work, which could lead to compensation for the plaintiff.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "9th Circuit Mulls Jury Trial for 'Avatar' Case," Matt Reynolds, Feb. 12, 2015

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