Vancouver restaurateur sues over Avatar story

Vancouver restaurant owner Emil Malak is suing director James Cameron and his production company over similarities between the story and characters in Avatar and his own movie idea.
Canadian director James Cameron poses prior to the opening of Avatar in Davos, Switzerland, in January. ((Virginia Mayo/Associated Press))

A Vancouver restaurant owner is filing a copyright infringement lawsuit against director James Cameron, his production company and 20th Century Fox over the mega-blockbuster Avatar.

Emil Malak says there are similarities between Avatar's story and characters and his Terra Incognita movie idea, which he created back in 1996.

Malak says he came up with the sci-fi plot at the suggestion of his sons and poured his own funds into hiring a screenwriter and graphic artist to concoct a movie concept and to illustrate the characters.

"I believe our concept and in particular, our characters and screenplay, must have landed with someone in Hollywood," Malak told CBC Vancouver Radio host Rick Cluff on Monday morning.

Malak said that when he started his restaurant, the Bellagio Café in downtown Vancouver, he discovered it was located in an area used regularly for the shooting of a Cameron-inspired TV series called Dark Angel in 2001 and 2002.

He says the series kept parking its trailers and trucks in front of his café so he complained and got the telephone number of a TV production company in Santa Monica.

'Building blocks are very identical'

The 57-year-old restaurateur said he wanted to get his script developed because business was slow, so he sent his idea for Terra Incognita to the development people at that company.

The movie Avatar is set on the planet Pandora, where an indigenous race fights to overcome rapacious miners from planet Earth. ((20th Century Fox/Associated Press))

"I am not making a claim that [Cameron] stole it," insists Malak, who said he has a paper trail to prove his case.

"He must have read it and it was embedded in his head for three years .… It's not 100 per cent identical, but the building blocks are very identical on the concept, the story, the screenplay and the characters."

Malak's lawyer Suzan El-Khatib told The Vancouver Province that the two stories are similar in terms of the premise of humans mining rare minerals on another planet and the idea of a special tree containing the collective memories of the indigenous people of the alien planet.

The characters also have physical features that are alike, including flat noses, yellow eyes, spotted faces and braided hair.