CBS and Netflix are officially in the clear in the tardigrade story line copyright infringement case brought against them by Anas Osama Ibrrahim Abdin last year. Yesterday, the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court decision that CBS Broadcasting Corp. and Netflix Corp. did not A story arc about a giant tardigrade in Star Trek: Discovery didn’t infringe a copyright in an unreleased video game that also featured a giant space-travelling bugbear. Much of what Abdin’s law suit claimed as infringing actually consisted of uncopyrightable facts and ideas about tardigrades, the court ruled.
Abdin owns a copyright on the concept for his game Tardigrades, which features a space-station botanist who travels through space after being absorbed into a giant tardigrade (a real-life microscopic creature that can endure extreme heat, cold, pressure, and radiation, and can even survive on the Moon for limited periods). The first season of Star Trek: Discovery featured a storyline with a gigantic tardigrade that could fold the fabric of space-time, and Abdin sued CBS a massive tardigrade-like creature, and Abdin sued CBS for copyright infringement in Manhattan federal court.
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Abdin’s claims in September, ruling both that co-defendents CBS and Netflix (licensed to air Discovery outside the United States) did not infringe because the works aren’t substantially similar, and that most of Abdin’s use of tardigrades was just general science knowledge and not copyrightable.
“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,” the court said. “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.”
There was also no substantial similarity based on the original parts of Abdil’s work that might have been protected, including its “tardigrade-human interaction.” Although the tardigrades had some similarities, they also had major differences. The creatures were used to travel through space in different ways and had different coloring, among other things. And “most significantly,” the court said it wasn’t clear how Abdin was planning to use the tardigrade in his game, while Star Trek’s was at the center of a fully developed story arc.
Most of the rest of Abdin’s case involved the general themes of space travel and alien encounters, neither of which are subject to copyright. The court also said that the human characters shared only “general and undeveloped similarities” and had significant differences, the court said, and the works had a different overall concept and feel.
Judge Denny Chin wrote the opinion, joined by Judge Susan L. Carney and Judge Kari A. Dooley sitting by designation.
Allan Chan & Associates represented Abdil. Loeb & Loeb LLP represented CBS.