Copyright Suit Filed over Rights to “Cowboys & Aliens”

Picture Writer Steve Busti sued Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Universal Studios and others this week claiming they ripped off the idea of the movie “Cowboys & Aliens” from a comic strip and graphic novel he wrote in the 1990’s, based on the idea that aliens landed in the wild, wild west and fought with cowboys. In the copyright infringement suit filed in Austin, Texas, Busti claims he came up with the aliens vs. cowboys concept and it was published in a comic book around 1994. Supposedly, around that same time,Comic Shop News, a comic book oriented publication,  ran a feature on Plaintiff’s “Cowboys and Aliens.” In that same issue, on the same page that Busti’s feature appeared, a story appeared concerning Malibu Studios and defendant Scott Mitchell Rosenberg. In May of 1997, two years after the publication of Plaintiff’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” Defendants Scott Mitchell Rosenberg and Platinum Studios, Inc., produced a one-sheet featuring a cowboy chased by an alien spaceship titled “Cowboys & Aliens.” Shortly thereafter, Universal Studios and Dreamworks bought the film rights to the project pitched by Rosenberg called “Cowboys and Aliens.” In 2006, Rosenberg launched a graphic novel series called, coincidentally enough, “Cowboys and Aliens.” To hear Busti tell it, Rosenberg’s graphic novel was very similar to his earlier “Cowboy and Alien” works: they both had an alien spaceship zooming overhead the main cowboy character [me: “so what?”] and they both had the spacecraft being discovered by Native American warriors (specifically Apache) who are then attacked [me: “well, OK…a little closer”]. In addition, the alien commander in Rosenberg’s novel was similar to the alien conqueror “Morguu” in Plaintiff’s work [me: “All alien bad guys kinda look alike to me.”]. While this movie didn’t receive very good reviews, it did make over $100 million at the box office so a lot is at stake. I haven’t seen the movie and I haven’t read the comic book or the graphic novel so I can’t opine on whether or not there is substantial similarity here but it sounds like the Plaintiff can make a decent case for access. I doubt that will be enough given these stock alien/western movie conventions but time will tell.


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