British artist sues Avatar director, James Cameron

Album artwork for prog-rock bands Yes and Asia, painted by artist Roger Dean. Picture: complimentary
Album artwork for prog-rock bands Yes and Asia, painted by artist Roger Dean. Picture: complimentary
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FILM director James Cameron is facing a multi-million pound lawsuit after a British artist, famed for his designs on a string of acclaimed 1970s prog-rock albums, accused him of copying his artwork for the biggest grossing movie of all time.

Roger Dean, who earned cult status for his work with bands such as Yes, Asia and Uriah Heep, believes the veteran filmmaker copied his paintings of strange alien landscapes for use in the 2009 sci-fi blockbuster Avatar.

Picture: complimentary

Picture: complimentary

The 68-year-old has filed a complaint in New York seeking £43m from the Titanic director, stating that the similarities between the 3D film and his work were too striking to be ignored. The parallels between the two, long debated online by fans of the artist, centre around a series of paintings Mr Dean completed after graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1968. The images, such as tree forms, appeared on the covers of some of the biggest selling albums of the era, including the 1973 Yes triple album, Yessongs.

Such artwork, Mr Dean claims, was copied by Mr Cameron when he was creating the alien moon of Pandora, on which the computer-generated film is set.

In his complaint, Mr Dean states: “The similarities of each such work are substantial, continuing, and direct so as not to rule out any accidental copying or similarity in scenes common to the genre. The defendants must have had access to the plaintiff’s work.” Mr Dean suggests the “signature” land forms of Pandora, floating mountains and stone arches, first appeared in more than 40 of his paintings. He said Mr Cameron “copied” two tree forms in the Na’vi homeland – the Hometree and the Tree of Life – directly from the cover of the Yes album.

He adds: “The overall look and feel of Pandora substantially resembles a Roger Dean world in that Pandora’s most striking and memorable features are those created by the plaintiff.”

Fans noticed alleged similarities when Avatar was released, with online debates about whether he should sue. The consensus was that, although the influence is clear, a British artist would have a tough legal struggle in American courts against a Hollywood director.

Twentieth Century Fox, which financed and distributed the film, has already defeated two other plagiarism claims, although a case from a disgruntled scriptwriter is set to go ahead later this year.

The company said yesterday that it does not comment on legal issues, but added: “You know the old pop music phrase – where there is a hit there is a writ.”

It remains uncertain why Mr Dean has launched the action now. He was not available for comment yesterday.

Cameron, 58, may now have to prove in court where he sought inspiration for the designs featured in Avatar, which has grossed more than £1.32bn worldwide since its release.

He has said that he started sketching ideas for Avatar in the early 1990s. He has admitted taking ideas from nature and mixing features among creatures, but he said his six-hoofed “horses” and flying “dragons” came from medieval and early literature.

“I was influenced by many artforms, as well as many languages and the natural world, but in the end I created something unique,” the director once explained.