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Platinum, Universal seek dismissal of Cowboys & Aliens lawsuit

Universal Pictures, DreamWorks and Platinum Studios have asked a federal judge in Texas to dismiss a lawsuit filed in December by a cartoonist claiming the sci-fi Western Cowboys & Aliens infringes on his 1995 comic of the same name.

In his complaint, Steven Busti contends the 2006 graphic novel on which the movie is based “contains striking similarities” to his own story, published more than a decade earlier in Bizarre Fantasy #1. Among those are “an alien spaceship zooming overhead the main cowboy character, the spacecraft being discovered by Native American warriors (specifically Apache) who are then attacked” and an alien commander “incredibly similar” to the conqueror “Morguu” in Busti’s work.

But Law 360 reports that in a motion filed Tuesday, the studios and Cowboys & Aliens creator Scott Mitchell Rosenberg assert Busti doesn’t provide sufficient evidence that Rosenberg had access to the self-published Bizarre Fantasy, “but instead simply alleges his comic was ‘published internationally and widely available’ and that a preview of his Cowboys and Aliens story appeared on an eight-page, obscure free weekly publication.”

Indeed, Busti, who didn’t register his comic with the U.S. Copyright Office until September 2011, two months after the premiere of the Universal film, seems to rely heavily on timing for his complaint: He notes that a preview of his “Cowboys and Aliens” story appeared on the back of Bizarre Fantasy #0 in November 1995, and was spotlighted in Comic Shop News, on the same page as a profile of Rosenberg. Less than two years later, Platinum released a one-sheet featuring a cowboy chased by an alien spaceship, part of a promotional effort that led to the sale of the film rights and the eventual release in 2006 of the graphic novel.

The defendants also brushed off accusations that the Platinum graphic novel and subsequent film adaptation bear “striking similarities” to Busti’s comic, saying that such aspects as the alien ship flying over a cowboy and the attack on the Native Americans “are generic plot elements that do not demonstrate striking similarity.”

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Well, if the preview was on the same page as a profile of Rosenberg, then it’s likely he saw it.

But the title wasn’t trademarked, ergo his use of it is noninfringing, and even if he DID have a couple of sequences that were roughly similar to the original story, it sounds like THEY were far too generic to constitute infringement either.

There’s a difference between copying a few elements from something and actually infringing a copyright or trademark. Hell, 50 Shades of Grey is literally a Twilight fanfic that’s had a Find-Replace run on the characters’ names, and it’s noninfringing.

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