Roger Dean Sues James Cameron

dean-asia-cover__130629021944Artist Roger Dean has filed a $50 million lawsuit against Avatar’s James Cameron for copyright infringement and unjust enrichment. And Harlan Ellison says he would love to testify in Dean’s behalf.

Dean’s work has been used on top-selling record albums by many bands, among them Yes and Asia, been displayed in museums and published in books. Filed on June 27, the federal suit contends: 

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. The infringing portions of Avatar are so similar to Plaintiffs Works that Defendants and others employed in the preparation of the film must have had access to the Plaintiffs Works.

Specific examples include:

The two key tree forms in the Na’vi homeland, the ‘Hometree’ and the ‘Tree of Life’ and other features of the Pandora landscape, are copies from Plaintiff’s [Dean’s] body of work, in particular the paintings ‘Pathways’ and ‘Floating Jungle’.… These are iconic themes revisited in 10 major paintings over 45 years with a large number of sketches and watercolors going back to initial work in the mid 60’s.


The Defendants’ ‘Signature Landforms’ are accordingly copied from Plaintiff’s works along with textures, patterns and many other distinctive elements and features of Plaintiff’s works. As a result the overall look and feel of the planet Pandora substantially resembles a Roger Dean world in that Pandora’s most striking and memorable features are those created by Plaintff.

Beyond $50 million in damages, Roger Dean wants an injunction, a full accounting and a court order posted online stating the defendants violated his copyright. He wants his rights enforced for future Avatar projects, too:

Further, upon information and belief, Defendants intend to film two (2) sequels and possibly a ‘prequel’ to Avatar, and a Walt Disney World Avatar-themed attraction, which sequels, prequel and attraction are very likely to utilize many of the original images of Plaintiff which would further continue Defendants breach of contractual obligations owed to Plaintiff.

If Roger Dean needs any help, Harlan Ellison is eager to testify about his own experience with James Cameron. Ellison asked readers of his forum to spread the word:  

IN THE WORLD !!!!!!!!

Please make it go viral, if you can, that HARLAN ELLISON IS READY TO TESTIFY FOR ROGER DEAN in his plagiarism lawsuit against James Cameron. Please refresh Roger’s memory that I have been in his place, same guy, same allegation, and that I won…with smoking gun in Mr. Cameron’s mouth, along with his foot. I have no animus toward Cameron, but he really must stop stealing from his betters.

Please, anyone, get to Roger or his legal staff, and at least have them become aware of this vital litigious history!

I have great fondness for Roger Dean and the immaculate originality of his work. The moment I saw AVATAR I recognized the breaking&entering of the Dean Sacrament.

Any help will be appreciated. This suit has been long in the coming.

Yr. Pal, Harlan

Update 07/02/2013: This afternoon Harlan posted, “Just got a call from the amazing, famous Roger Dean, from the UK. Thank you all for getting my shout-out to him. Godspeed, Roger, as you try, as I once did, to teach James Cameron that NO ONE can puff oneself up blowhard enough to escape one’s own thieving ways. Or, as Michelangelo put it, ‘Where I steal an idea…I leave my knife.'”

9 thoughts on “Roger Dean Sues James Cameron

  1. An additional benefit of this suit is that now maybe the sequels, theme park and other commercial exploitation will never happen!

  2. …and maybe the copyright holders of Edward Gorey’s work can go after DESPICABLE ME?

    I admit that that’s just one of many art influences in that animated film. It isn’t the out and out knifing that was done by Bakshi in WIZARDS

    Voice artist Sheila Chandra said “sampling is not flattery. It is theft.”

  3. And in this Entertainment Weekly interview from January 2010, Cameron seemed to acknowledge that a Yes album cover may have inspired the floating-mountain look of the film:,,20336893_20727111,00.html#20727115

    Back in the day, it was a Starlog interview of Cameron that became the smoking gun that Ellison used. Cameron had admitted to borrowing from a couple of episodes of The Outer Limits, Starlog was prevented from publishing that quote, but Ellison found out about it. That history is described here with quotes from Cameron and Ellison:

    Now maybe the Entertainment Weekly folks will be sued for any original tapes or transcripts of the interview in which Cameron acknowledges the possibility that a Yes album cover (which could only have been Roger Dean’s work) inspired the look of the film…

  4. Thanks — good resources.

    By the way, people will need to copy the link into their browser URL window. I’m not able to make WordPress process as a valid link one which is punctuated that way.

  5. We live in a dangerous world. We are surrounded, no, *battered* by visual and aural culture on all sides, so much so that it seems nothing could possibly be new. But be influenced by something, wittingly or unwittingly, and you could easily land in trouble.

  6. Taral’s latest comment immediately made me think of Spider Robinson’s story “Melancholy Elephants”.

  7. It is not inspiration that you should be worried about. It is what you borrow and do not add improve or elevate beyond what was used.

    When my wife and I saw the first day showing of THE TERMINATOR in NYC, we were amused by it. When it was over, I said “Harlan Ellison is going to sue.” That stretch of skulls and gunfire and atmosphere, more tha anything in the plot, was what I thought of. that was swiped The plot outline has been used in other movies, and was a comic book staple.

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