Tardigrades’ rights to be kickass water bears hardcore enough to survive in space’s vacuum just got defended by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second City Circuit. Oh, and that Star Trek: Discovery’s use of one of the creatures didn’t infringe copyright, ending a legal battle that’s been brewing since the show’s first season.
Back in 2018, game developer Anas Abdin sued CBS and Netflix (which distributes Star Trek: Discovery internationally) for allegedly taking the concept for the show’s giant-sized tardigrade creature from his unreleased point-and-click adventure game, Tardigrades. Abdin had been working on prototype versions of the game since 2014, but after early episodes of Discovery featured a tardigrade in a major capacity Abdin began collating what he believed to be examples of the series lifting not just its use of tardigrades, but character archetypes and designs. Abdin’s case was first dismissed by the court for the Southern District of New York in September last year, but following an appeal to the Second Circuit, it was reaffirmed today via Bloomberg Law that neither CBS nor Netflix infringed on Abdin’s intellectual property with Discovery.
In the television series, a tardigrade was the creature Michael Burnham and the crew discovered could help the titular ship’s powerful “spore drive” to travel almost instantaneously across a subspace domain called the mycelial network. But the opinion, written by Judge Denny Chin and viewable in full at Bloomberg Law, noted that part of the reason (beyond only superficial parallels between Abdin’s story in Tardigrades and the arc the tardigrade was included in on Discovery) Abdin’s case didn’t stand up was the abilities used by the tardigrades in both properties weren’t copyrightable ideas, but basic scientific fact. Yes, in case you forgot, tardigrades are real and cool as hell.
“Abdin’s space-travelling 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…” Judge Chin’s opinion reads in part, after citing scientific experiments conducted in 2007 about tardigrades’ ability to survive in the vacuum of space. “By permitting Abdin to exclusively own the idea of a space-travelling 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.”
A bit of a Trekker himself it seems, Judge Chin couldn’t get away with adding an extra source: “See Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek: The Return of the Archons, Star Trek: The Original Series (1967) (“Without freedom of choice, there is no creativity.”).”
As well as the general facts of what we know about tardigrades as real creatures, the Second Circuit further stated that the concepts as to how both Tardigrades the game — which has yet to be fully released — and Discovery showcased one being used in space travel were different enough that “undercut substantial similarity.” Even if some aspects of Abdin’s use of a tardigrade in his game were protectible (such as its role in Tardigrade’s wider narrative or distinct physical features and coloration), the court added that there were enough substantial differences between it and the one seen in Discovery that independent comparisons could not find substantial similarities.
The affirmation likely puts Abdin’s case to bed at this point, but it also reaffirms that tardigrades, wherever they show up in sci-fi (or real life!) are pretty rad little creatures.