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The situation: A provocative essay in the New York Times draws a connection between "fan culture" and how people's civic participation has morphed into consumer habit, with politicians cast as genre characters (e.g., Elizabeth Warren as a Harry Potter character), for example. The essay describes democracy "reimagined as celebrity fandom."

Federal Judge Dismisses ‘Tardigrades’ Copyright Suit Over Star Trek: Discovery

No substantial similarity. Federal Judge Lorna G. Schofield dismisses developer Anas Abdin's copyright infringement suit over Star Trek: Discovery, which he claims copied his Tardigrades videogame. She finds nothing more than a few superficial similarities insufficient to move forward with the case.
  • Basis for decision. The judge states Abdin would've had to demonstrate CBS had actually copied his work and that the copying was illegal because of a substantial similarity between Discovery and protectable elements of Tardigrades. She noted that even assuming CBS had copied from Abdin, he still had to prove substantial similarity. He failed to do so.
  • 'Overall feel.' In her 15-page ruling, which was pending since March, Schofield found Abdin failed to demonstrate how his game and Discovery were similar in their "overall feel." She wrote:

“The television series is not substantially similar to the [Tardigrades] videogame after holistically comparing the works’ overall feel as instructed by good eyes and common sense.”
Download the judge's ruling. (1.8 MB PDF)
  • Tardigrades' incoherent plotline. After examining what she called "the disparate videos and images" of Abdin's unfinished and unpublished game, Schofield found it failed to "easily evince a single coherent plotline" with no suggestion the Tardigrades story or characters "engage with the themes prevalent in Star Trek." This despite Abdin's claim his work was virtually the same and could literally have been used as a storyboard for Discovery.
  • 'Not actionable.' What similarities she did find, the judge determined they were "not actionable." Where Abdin had tried to argue his characters had been copied by Discovery's creators for the characters of Burnham, Stamets, Culber and Tilly, Schofield found "the alleged similarities between … characters in the two works also fails to support a claim, as they are mostly generalized non-protectable descriptions."
Image: Anas Abdin
SUPERFICIAL SIMILARITIES? The defense’s grounds for dismissing the copyright lawsuit against Star Trek: Discovery call the similarities between it and the Tardigrades videogame “generic.”
  • Unoriginal Tardigrade. Specifically with regard to the creature featured in both works, Schofield found "both the videogame and [Discovery] include a large tardigrade that can fly through space and interacts with the characters. These concepts are not original to the videogame."
  • Conceptual similarities. Schofield went on to cite other similar works featuring similar treatments of tardigrades, including the 2010 children's fantasy novel, "The Search for WondLa," the 2015 YouTube animated series, Captain Tardigrade, and 2014 episodes of the TV series Cosmos — all predating Abdin's work. She found: "These conceptual similarities of tardigrades flying in space are thus non-copyrightable elements of the videogame and cannot constitute the basis for a copyright infringement."
  • More dissimilarities. In fact, Schofield found plenty of differences between Abdin's and Discovery's depictions of tardigrades. Though both assist humans with traveling through space, she found they did so "in completely different ways," with Abdin's tardigrade transporting a person via a "bear hug," while Discovery character Lt. Stamets injects himself with tardigrade DNA. "There is no similarity," the judge wrote. 
  • Different depictions. Abdin had claimed the two tardigrades looked the same, but Schofield found "the differences between plaintiff’s and defendants’ tardigrades defeat any finding of substantial similarity." Abdin's tardigrade is large and deep blue, while Discovery's is brownish-greenish." While both are large space travelers, "the similarities end there," she wrote.
Reactions. In an entry titled "A Dying Tardigrade" on his Anastronaut blog, Abdin expressed his disappointment at the ruling:

“I respect the ruling and I expect everyone to do so. … Not sure what happens to my project now … or my career in general.”
  • YouTube conspiracists. Abdin had been encouraged in his suit, despite some clear legal defects in the case, by several widely viewed YouTubers who routinely rail against CBS and Discovery. One such critic writes: "This is Star Trek now. This is what you support when you subscribe to CBS All Access. The judge ruled against Anas. Fair enough. Now search your heart and see if YOU agree. If not, perhaps you shouldn't support CBS anymore."
  • 'Good guys are losing.' In her YouTube livestream this afternoon, MechaRandom42 (pictured, right) called for #JusticeForAnas, a prevailing hashtag about the case.
  • On Twitter, the general theme of responses to Abdin's announcement was that CBS' corporate power is what led the judge to rule as she did. "This majorly sucks," tweeted podcaster @PopcastGuys. "I am not sure how it's possible CBS won't have to suffer the consequences of their plagiarism. Are there any big gun attorneys that will come to support Anas?" Tom Connors, part of the Midnight's Edge anti-Discovery crew on YouTube, simply tweeted, "Oh man…"
Doomed anyway. Even if the judge had allowed the lawsuit to move forward, Abdin's attorneys had already conceded important parts of the case:
  • Late copyright registration. Abdin registered his copyright too late — long after Discovery had already aired — to seek more than actual financial damages suffered by his videogame. That wouldn't have amounted to much given the game has never been released.
  • Attorneys' fees and statutory damages. Even if Abdin had prevailed in court, the late registration also meant he could not seek attorneys' fees or statutory damages. There was very little left for Abdin to win in the case.
Why this matters: Abdin's lawsuit had become a cause célèbre among Discovery critics using the suit to make their case this latest Star Trek series was unoriginal and fundamentally flawed.
  • Lightning rod. The suit had already become a lightning rod for some fans of traditional Star Trek who have rejected Discovery, as well as others still smarting from CBS’ copyright lawsuit against Axanar and and its producer, Alec Peters.
  • Abdin's legal options. While the dismissal was not specifically issued with prejudice (meaning Abdin couldn't re-file the suit), his only option would be to appeal the dismissal, and his lawyers would have to find an error in how Schofield applied the law. He can't simply appeal because he didn't like the decision. Even so, his blog states he's willing to accept the ruling.
  • Abdin's career options. Despite the worry in his blog post today, little about the ruling affects his ability to complete and release Tardigrades. While he has previously fretted people would assume he copied Discovery, the judge's ruling shows the two works were likely developed independently.
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Tardigrades on Super Geeks Podcast

Join AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza this week on the Super Geeks live podcast in the Real Super Geeks Facebook group to discuss the Tardigrades dismissal. The podcast airs Friday at 10 p.m. PDT/1 a.m. EDT. Super Geeks is hosted by George Silsby. 
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