Who has the rights?
film rights in hollywood are not always well defined from the perspective of an outside observer. When considering the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars, it’s immediately obvious who owns those IPs. Disney purchased Star Wars from George Lucas in 2012, which in turn led to the decanonization of the Extended Universe as its new owners reworked the franchise. so it’s pretty obvious who owns that ip. The same goes for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. disney can go in any direction they want with the respective stories & characters of said ips. However, when it comes to properties James Cameron is involved with, especially Avatar and Alita Battle Angel, most media outlets report, and readers believe with equal conviction, that these IPs are owned by Disney. in reality, it is very likely that this statement is far from the truth.
it is the production company lightstorm entertainment that owns all the production rights of ips such as avatar, alita battle angel, terminator, true lies, which in turn is owned by james cameron. “production rights” in this context refers to who has creative control. the body of law that can state when, how, and at what volume a story, characters, merchandise, publicity material, artwork, etc., must be created or used by a third party, including the right to earn money from said IP. In the case of Avatar, it is Lightstorm Entertainment that needs to grant those rights to an entity like Disney.
lightstorm entertainment (le) was founded in 1990 by james cameron and lawrence kasanoff. Most of his films have been distributed by 20th Century Fox. “distribution” means that an entity has the (exclusive) rights to use a property through its own distribution channels, for example, transmission with the intention of making a profit. this happens according to a contract that is drawn up with the legal owner of the ip in case the owner is a third party and not the company itself. le is the third in the case of avatar.
but how can we know that it is lightstorm entertainment and not disney who is in charge of properties like alita battle angel or avatar? there are many indicators, some clear and others vague, that reinforce that this is the situation. will be discussed in the following paragraphs. one doesn’t just trust a fan-edited wikipedia page to be the only source of truth!
with the 2019 alita battle angel movie, for example, the options to adapt the gunnm manga into a live action movie were bought by james cameron in the year 2000 from yukito kishiro (the creator of the ip) by the price of 1 million Japanese. and in. This was revealed by manga creator Yukito Kishiro during the premiere of Alita: Battle Angel in China. quote yt: link in the video he said cameron got the rights for 100 million US dollars which was a mistake. in a later email, he corrected the number to 1 million Japanese yen. Yukito is quite nervous when being interviewed and mistook his coins on the spot.
The social media sites for Avatar and Alita Battle Angel exist on separate accounts, and basically all ads run from these sites, while Disney’s official accounts are mostly hands-free. While they feature a lot of Star Wars entertainment and Marvel Ips, they don’t advertise Avatar. Even on Disney’s Last Investor Day on December 10, 2020, there was no mention of Avatar. small images of the avatar movie poster were placed among other content, but there were no trailers or upcoming plans.
Screengrabs like the one above were the only hints that Avatar was in evidence. Hint: find the Avatar movie poster right below the Logo.
A few months earlier, at the end of October, Alita Battle Angel was re-released in US theaters. During that time, the social media accounts announcing the re-release were the account of Alita Battle Angel, James Cameron, Jon Landau, Robert Rodriguez, and 20th Century. the obvious distinction between lightstorm ips and disney ips can be clearly seen. it was james cameron who led the charge :
Once more no engagement of Disney in this Cameron property. For many this might appear as a lack of interest from the side of Disney to promote that rerelease. But why hurt their own income by not throwing their support behind it? Where they told not to?
one of the biggest indicators that james cameron owns the intellectual ip of his movies comes from a completely different source. the recurring theme of the lawsuits lightstorm entertainment has faced over the years from numerous plaintiffs. It is not the subject of this article to discuss whether these lawsuits have merit, however, as of the date of publication, all of these cases have been won by James Cameron.
“Ryder’s legal claim wasn’t for copyright infringement, but rather that Cameron and Lightstorm had breached an implied contract to compensate Ryder for his ideas and also committed fraud and deceit. Nevertheless, the plaintiff still needed to show that Avatar was similar enough to K.R.Z. and that Cameron hadn’t independently created it prior to Ryder’s pitch. That was a high bar that Ryder has failed to clear.” – The Hollywood Reporter – OCTOBER 03, 2013
here is another lawsuit cameron faced by roger dean, an artist with works that show some similarities between his designs and pandora’s floating islands. the bragging media Jul 02, 2013
This lawsuit was also dismissed. What’s interesting to note here is that all of these lawsuits were directed at Cameron and Lightstorm and not 20th Century Fox at the time. Had Fox owned the rights to the IPs, the lawsuits logically would have had to be directed at Fox and not James Cameron/Le. If an individual artist creates any kind of art, the intellectual property belongs to the person who created the art, as long as it is the sole creation of that person.
if an artist is under contract with a company that owns a specific intellectual property and the artist is commissioned to create something with respect to the intellectual property, ownership of that new artwork belongs to the copyright holder intellectual and not of the artist. who drew it even if that art is completely new, companies usually sign contracts that regulate the transfer of the artist’s rights to the company.
edit: Shortly after publication, another great test appeared. Production designer Dylan Cole, who worked on Alita: Battle Angel, received a question from Twitter user st_challenger about who hired him. here is his answer:
This shows exactly where we at. Lightstorm Entertainment is the one owning the production rights. In Dylans case all rights to his artworks got transferred to LE.
End of edit.
in the case of 20th century fox, it would mean that everything that has been created for avatar would have been their property. therefore, all responsibility for said art would have been with them as well. In the event of claims of plagiarism, the claims should be directed to 20th Century Fox and not to a director who took the order from them. in return, if the statements are found to be true, the company could go to ask said artist for compensation. because the artist harmed his employer by acting that way.
for example, in 2009, a norwegian lamp manufacturer called luxo sued the animation studio pixar and parent company walt disney for copyright infringement. The claim was that Disney used a design of theirs without consent. When Disney started selling physical replicas of that design, Luxo decided enough was enough and sued. la-times – sep. 7, 2009
A few years later, Victor Whitmill sued Warner Bros over a tribal tattoo design that appeared on Stu’s (Ed Helms) face in the movie “The Hangover Part 2”. The artist designed the tattoo specifically for Mike Tyson and claimed that Warner Bros. he had no right to use that motif in his film. Warner Bros. managed to resolve the dispute out of court without disclosing details of the settlement. the hollywood reporter – june 20, 2011
In both cases, the lawsuits were directed at the companies that were the current copyright owners (of the film) and not against a specific artist or director who came up with the idea of using a design that was already it was protected. Going back to james cameron, this is a clear indication that he, with his studio lightstorm entertainment, should be in charge of the avatar’s ip. The same can be said for his other properties, such as Terminator, True Lies, and Alita Battle Angel. As the former 20th century Fox only owned the distribution rights to these films, these rights were inherited by Disney during the Fox acquisition.
Just to be clear, Disney needs to approach James Cameron for permission to use any of the content and materials from his properties. It doesn’t matter if it’s about showing the movies on your services (distribution rights) or the use of advertising promotional material, etc. It’s not just the avatar theme park at disneyland that needs a license agreement with lightstorm entertainment.
“Disney reached a long-term, exclusive licensing agreement with “Avatar” director James Cameron and his producing partner Jon Landau, as well as the film’s financier and distributor, 20th Century Fox, to develop theme park rides and attractions based on the 2009 hit and its two planned sequels.”
“under the terms of the agreement, fox”(distributor)” and cameron”(owner of ip)” will receive a license fee and a percentage of merchandise sales. however, disney will not share a portion of ticket proceeds.”
the-times September 21, 2011
From this article, it is clear that Cameron owns the property and Disney have entered into an agreement to use IP’s content exclusively. Since Fox’s acquisition in 2019, the share Disney should now receive will have increased significantly with Fox’s share added to Disney’s.
james cameron made a $350 million fortune in avatar due to his percentage share in the film to which he contributed as director, writer and producer. this is the biggest financial loot for a movie director.
His net worth is estimated at $700 million. Due to his reign with Lightstorm over properties like Avatar, Alita, and other projects, Cameron should be a force to be reckoned with in any negotiations with the studios. even disney should have a hard time getting away with it.
“James Cameron Net Worth: James Cameron is a Canadian-born director who has a net worth of $700 million. James Cameron is the creative force behind such films as Terminator, Aliens, Rambo II, The Abyss, Terminator 2, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar. In the United States alone, his films have grossed more than $1.9 billion. His films have grossed $6.3 billion worldwide.”
celebrity net worth
list of movies/ips owned by lightstorm entertainment.
image by wikipedia
hopefully this clears up a lot of confusion. So the fact that Avatar once again took the box office crown as the highest grossing movie of all time (for the weekend of March 13, 2021) is actually a win for James Cameron. (the intellectual property rights holder) and not for Disney (the distribution rights). owner).