A video game developer is out of luck, as a federal appeals court confirmed the dismissal of his copyright infringement lawsuit over the “Star Trek: Discovery” television series.
Anas Osama Ibrahim Abdin (Abdin) filed a lawsuit against CBS Broadcasting, Netflix, CBS Corporation, and CBS Interactive, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The lawsuit was based on alleged copyright infringement.
Abdin holds a copyright for his video game “Tardigrades,” which features a space-station botanist who travels through space after being absorbed into a giant tardigrade. Tardigrades actually exist, and they are microscopic creatures that can survive in extremely harsh environments such as extreme heat, cold, pressure, and even radiation. They have been widely used in scientific research, which have found that tardigrades can survive even the rigors of outer space exposure, including direct UV radiation.
In the first season of the show “Star Trek: Discovery,” three episodes involved a space encounter with a giant tardigrade-like creature, which is what prompted Abdin’s copyright infringement lawsuit.
Abdin’s lawsuit was dismissed by the district court, and he later appealed to the Second Circuit. The Second Circuit decided the matter earlier this week, upholding the Second Circuit’s dismissal of his case.
In its opinion, the Second Circuit stated that CBS and Netflix did not infringe Abdin’s copyright because based on the original concepts (i.e. the protectable elements) of Abdin’s work, the works are not substantially similar. Furthermore, they held that certain elements of science fiction, such as space travel and alien encounters, are not copyrightable material.
They explained how Abdin’s use of tardigrades is not copyrightable material, stating that “Abdin’s space-traveling tardigrade is an unprotectable idea because it is a generalized expression of a scientific fact—namely, the known ability of a tardigrade to survive in space . . . by permitting Abdin to exclusively own the idea of a space-traveling tardigrade, this Court would improperly withdraw that idea from the public domain and stifle creativity naturally flowing from the scientific fact that tardigrades can survive the vacuum of space.”
The tardigrades used in both works had noticeable differences. The court noted that the tardigrades were different colors and were used to travel through space in different ways. Most significantly, the Second Circuit said that while Star Trek’s use of tardigrades was at the center of a fully developed story, it was unclear what role Abdin’s tardigrade would play in the video game, ultimately deciding that both had a different impression and concept.
The case name is Abdin v. CBS Broadcasting Inc. et al., and was heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The case number is 19-3160. You can check out the Second Circuit’s decision here.