highest grossing movie of all time in North America and surpassed the $2-billion mark at the international box office.After its 2009 release, Avatar became the
At the time, director James Cameron said he'd been developing the idea for the film since 1994, but had delayed production for over a decade until he felt the technology was sufficiently advanced to capture his vision.
But Vancouver restaurateur and amateur screenwriter Emil Malak is challenging Cameron's authorship, telling CTV's Canada AM that the Academy Award-winning director "borrowed" concepts from a screenplay Malak sent him over a decade ago.
As he related to host Marci Ien, Malak learned the director was in Vancouver filming television series Dark Angel back in 2000. Taking advantage of the director's presence in town, Malak dropped off a copy of his script — a film called Terra Incognita he wrote in 1997 — to one of Cameron's producers. No one ever responded.
Nearly 10 years later, Malak received a call about his script, but it wasn't from the person he'd hoped.
"I never heard until 2009 when my colour graphic designer called me and said 'he's taken all your building blocks on the story and the characters and the graphics.' I went to the Internet to look and I was quite surprised," he told host Marci Ien.
Malak claims Cameron copied dozens of his ideas — everything from character names and physical characteristics to the idea for a "mineral-rich blue planet" and "mystical tree of life" are alleged to have been taken straight from Malak's original work.
He says he contacted 20th Century Fox to explain the issue and they agreed to a meeting — on their terms.
"They did not want to discuss the similarities and the comparison they wanted to discuss just the dates. I registered mine with the Writers Guild of Canada 10 times to make sure it was protected between 1998 and 2003, and they said 'Well. James Cameron wrote his in 1996, you lose'," he said.
Studio lawyers agreed to send Malak an image of several pages from Cameron's Avatar screenplay so that Malak could verify the dates. They said Cameron had written the script on his personal computer.
"I had some computer experts check it and they said no way it was done in 1996 so we've been here a year-and-a-half dancing with 20th Century Fox asking for the original file and we haven't received it yet," he said.
Earlier this month, Malak went to the Federal Court of Canada to demand that Cameron provide the original file he claims to have written in 1996.
Malak said he would drop the lawsuit if Cameron could prove his screenplay predates Terra Incognita.
"The facts are there, they speak for themselves. Produce a file and I will go away, and it's divine intervention," he said.
Until then, he's filed a $100-million copyright violation suit — a charge entertainment lawyer Ed Reinbergs says has merit, but will likely take years to see through.
"Having the case is one thing but being able to see it through the court for the number of years it might take to do this, he's going to have to have the wherewithal and strength to get through a number of years in front of a judge," Reinbergs told Canada AM.
Despite the potential costs and time commitment, Malak said he's determined to proceed. "[Y]ou have to do what you believe in, in life, even when these are big boys," he said.