In this instance, Mr Schkeiban alleged that Avatar was substantially similar to his screenplay for Bats and Butterflies, an unmade film which was based on a series of books written by him. In particular he claimed that Jake Sully, the wheelchair-bound hero in Avatar, was based on the lead character in Bats and Butterflies because both are physically "weak". He also said that he multi-levelled homes which the Na'vi tribe live in on Avatar's moon, Pandora, are comparable to the plants and trees in Bats and Butterflies. Finally Mr Schkeiban argued that that the "twist" in Bats and Butterflies, whereby the baddies turn on the goodies, should be protected by copyright.Common sense dictates that Mr Schkeiban's claim should fail. It is always difficult to protect a plot by copyright, and it is even more difficult to protect distinct elements of a story such as the protagonist's physically weak demeanour. In the UK, the Patent County Court found last year in Hodgson v Isaac that the entire plot of a book can be protected, however Mr Schkeiban's claim fell far short of alleging copying of the whole plot.
Manuel Real, sitting in the US district court of California held that Mr Schkeiban's screenplay was "not substantially similar" to Avatar and that Bats and Butterflies was "a straightforward children's story that lacks the depth and complexity of the moods expressed in Avatar". Whilst the decision is undeniably less interesting than the question of who should play Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey, it is reassuring to see a straightforward copyright case now and again.
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