July 9, 2013

Lawyers Come Out of the Sky, They Sue There

Let’s be honest, the only thing Avatar really had going for it was that it was visual eye candy, a truly impressive thing to look at. I mean, come on, the “Dances With Smurfs” plot was old and hackneyed when Eric Cartman came up with it! But, at least, the move was pretty to look at and immersed you in something you’d never seen before. Unless, of course, you’re a fan of Yes or Asia or many other prog (and related) bands. Not for nothin’, but when Avatar first broke a good number of prog lovers made the point that Pandora looked an awful lot like some of the album covers done by Roger Dean for those bands (and others). Things like:

Yes, Fragile (1971)

Yes, Yessongs (1973)

Yes, Keys to Ascension (1996)

Asia (1982)

Uriah Heep, Sea of Light (1995)

Now Dean has filed suit against James Cameron, looking for a cut of the bounty Avatar raked in (and that the in-production sequel surely will as well):
In his legal action, Mr Dean - described in the papers as ‘an international artist and designer, whose evocative and visionary images... created a new genre of work’ - has claimed Cameron had ‘studied and referenced his art in preparation for the film’. The papers continued: ‘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.’
Now, I’m not an IP lawyer, but I wonder how much of a case Dean really has here. For one thing, the history of art is a history of appropriation, between which and outright theft there’s a slim and sometimes blurry boundary. For another, I’m not sure this:
Mr Dean said his claims were backed up by ‘numerous comments on the internet’.
counts as controlling, or even persuasive, legal authority. On the other hand, as this article points out with some side-by-side comparisons, the similarities are striking. And it’s not as if Cameron is completely ignorant of the potential influence:
Meanwhile, since we pointed out the resemblance between Avatar and Roger Dean’s artwork a month ago, there’s been a flurry of discussion on the subject online. Entertainment Weekly asked director James Cameron whether he got his idea for the floating mountains from a Yes cover, and he laughed. ‘It might have been... Back in my pot-smoking days.’
Those are some mighty profitable weed sessions, then, James. Throw Roger a bone for the homage that was much of Avatar. It’ll at least keep him from designing the state set for Yes’s next cruise ship adventure (for which we’ll all be thankful).

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