A case against the makers of the wildly successful movie Avatar shows how California courts examine and decide fraud in the context of idea submission claims. In the Intellectual Property Magazine article “Appeals Court Clarifies Idea Submission Claims,” Lee Brenner and Andreas Becker examine Eric Ryder v. Lightstorm Entertainment, et al., and analyze Ryder’s fraud, fiduciary duty, and contract claims.

According to the court’s opinion, director James Cameron created the concept for Avatar in 1995, and circulated his 102-page “scriptment” in 1996.  By 1997, he ceased pitching the project due to technology limitations, but continued work on the project in the mid-2000s. Avatar was released in 2009. In the meantime, plaintiff Eric Ryder authored the sci-fi story KRZ 2068 and, although KRZ 2068 underwent development and was turned into a treatment, Cameron never saw it and his production company, Lightstorm, passed on the project.

In comparing the works, the court filtered out those elements of Avatar that preexisted the KRZ 2068 story, and ultimately rejected each of the remaining 12 supposedly similar elements. The court rejected Ryder’s allegations of impropriety from Cameron and Lightstorm and upheld summary judgment as to fraud, contract and fiduciary duty claims, finding that the works were not substantially similar and that Ryder had not been damaged.

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