Copy cats! The claws are out

James Cameron is the latest artist to be accused of plagiarism

Imitation is supposed to be the sincerest form of flattery. If, however, you've sweated blood building a highly lucrative empire based on the fruits of your own imagination, you could be forgiven for thinking that imitation is the boldest form of rip-off.

Accusations of plagiarism have abounded recently. The latest features a potentially devastating claim that James Cameron's blockbusting tale of blue aliens, Avatar, had been stolen from a series of best-selling Russian novels called Noon Universe. The first Noon Universe novel, written by the brothers Boris and Arkady Strugatsky, appeared in the 1960s and was translated into English in 1978.

Noon Universe fans in Russia – where Avatar is a smash hit – point out that both tales take place on a planet called Pandora in the 22nd century; and while Cameron's aliens are called the Na'vi, the Strugatskys' are called the Nave. "The Americans have borrowed our idea – it's very unpleasant. But I won't take them to court. Or shall I?", Boris Strugatsky (his brother died in 1991) was reported as saying.

Cameron vehemently rejects the claims, pointing out that he has been planning Avatar since at least 1996, when the first draft was written. "Mr Cameron has been working on the story for Avatar for at least 14 years and is well known for his original version," his spokesman said.

Strugatsky has since denied making any plagiarism allegations, but the episode shows that in the age of the internet even the most casual coincidence will be found out by obsessive fans.

And, given the lure of the millions of dollars now being made by Hollywood blockbusters or publishing sensations such as the Harry Potter films or The Da Vinci Code, there's an ever- increasing likelihood of a writ from a previously obscure artist crying foul.