An Open Letter to Anas Abdin

From one independent creator to another...

Three weeks ago, it seemed as if the Tardigrades lawsuit was over. Anas Abdin’s lawsuit was tossed decisively and at an early stage, Abdin himself said, “I respect the ruling and I expect everyone to do so,” and there seemed to be little interest in any kind of an appeal.

However, that respect for the decision did not last long. On Friday, Abdin announced that he was appealing the verdict and was launching a GoFundMe to finance the campaign. As of this writing, that campaign has raised more than $17,500 from more than 470 donors and is inching closer to its $20,000 goal.

To aid in that fundraising, Abdin has been getting some significant help from anti-Star Trek: Discovery YouTubers. In his tweet announcing the campaign, he credits Nerdrotics for helping him set it up and the channel hosted a telethon on YouTube to help raise money for it.

The appeal, however, is doomed. As we noted back in September 2018, shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the case has many deficiencies. There is little evidence that Star Trek: Discovery could have taken anything from the game given the timeline of events, there’s even less evidence that they copy anything and no reason to believe that the similarities can be copyright-protected or rise to the level of being an infringement.

However, even if Abdin is able to overcome those hurdles, issues with the copyright registration doom the case. Though I’ve argued against the registration requirement multiple times, it’s the law in the United States.

In short, while I very rarely make predictions about litigation, there are always surprises, this is a lawsuit that literally cannot succeed without either a major shift in the law or the case itself.

So why appeal? As we noted earlier, much of the support for Abdin has been from those with an axe to grind against CBS over Star Trek: Discovery. The desire to appeal isn’t based on any legal reality, but a desire to “stick it” to CBS and its partners.

But that won’t work. CBS can easily absorb the cost of the appeal while Abdin and his supporters are forced to crowdfund the appeal. No matter how much you dislike CBS, this isn’t going to hurt them.

However, it is already hurting Abdin. It has drawn attention to similarities between Tardigrades, his game, and previous works, including the 1984 Dune movie, earlier Star Trek series and the video game Space Quest III. These were highlighted in a YouTube video by a former Abdin supporter and YouTuber Ketwolski.

However, most damming of all is that Ketwolski highlighted that Abdin, back in 2015, released a free, unauthorized video game based on the TV show Dexter. That game, according to Ketwolski, included music from another YouTuber without attribution or permission.

This, most likely, would never have come to light without the appeal and it casts a shadow on Abdin’s attempts to reframe this battle as one about an independent creator struggling to protect their work.

But, in that reframing, he said something interesting. “If you have been a victim of IP theft or plagiarism please let me know too. Don’t be quiet, you have a voice and you must be heard.”

To that end, I have been a victim of IP theft and plagiarism and I do have something I can say to Abdin, even if it isn’t what want he likely wants to hear.

An Open Letter to Anas Abdin

Dear Anas,

My name is Jonathan Bailey. I work as a copyright and plagiarism expert. I have served as an expert witness, I track and remove infringing material from the internet and I run the website Plagiarism Today. I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve spent the past 15 years helping creators protect their work online.

However, first and foremost I am a writer. Prior to launching Plagiarism Today, I was just like any other independent creator, posting short stories, poetry, essays and other work online desperate to find an audience.

And, to that end, I was successful. Unfortunately, much of that audience turned out to be plagiarists that took my work and reposted it under their names. I first discovered this in 2001, in a story I’ve recounted here, but I ended up finding and stopping some hundreds of plagiarists of my work over the next four years.

I know well the anger and pain that being a victim of plagiarism causes. I have been there, blinded by rage, insecure that my work would be seen as my own, fearing that I’d lost all control over my creation.

In the end, that had such a strong impact on me that it started me on this career. I launched Plagiarism Today in 2005 and have been largely full time with it since 2007. I’ve made it my mission to help small and independent creators fight plagiarism, become aware of their rights and take back control of their work.

However, this case isn’t about that. Star Trek: Discovery did not plagiarize your work. The timeline of alleged infringement simply doesn’t make sense. A TV show, likely in development for many years, could not have plagiarized your game. But, even if they did, the similarities don’t rise to the level of infringement. However, even if they do, the registration issues torpedo this case.

This lawsuit is not winnable without a ground shift in copyright law. There is no logic in continuing it.

To be clear, I do not believe you are a bad person. I know well the heartache and anger that comes with being plagiarized (or feeling like you’ve been plagiarized). I also know well how easy it is to see similarities and patterns where there are none, even demonstrating it last year by creating a fake plagiarism story. We are humans, we make mistakes, that includes seeing patterns that aren’t there or believing we created something that well predates us.

Instead, I believe that you’re being goaded and encouraged by others with their own agendas. While I believe that they are sincere in that they genuinely see plagiarism, they come from the perspective of someone who already hated Discovery and CBS. They are not neutral observers nor are their motivations to support independent creators, it’s to hurt CBS.

To that end, they may well end up harming you in their bid, by sapping your energy and using your name for their cause.

When I was in the thick of my plagiarism battles, I had many people telling me to sue the plagiarists. However, those lawsuits were never practical. Even though the infringement was extremely clear (copy and paste plagiarism), there simply wasn’t enough money involved to go after them.

Part of this was due to registration issues, a problem that your lawsuit shares, but much of it was simply owed to the high cost of litigation. My lawyer tactfully and carefully explained all this to me at the time and it’s a big part of why he’s still my lawyer today, nearly 20 years later. He had and has my best interests at heart.

Even if you don’t spend any of your money on this, litigation is still taxing both time-wise and emotionally. Your energy is better spent elsewhere, namely on your game.

I know that my words will be ignored. I’ll be dismissed as a detractor or a “Drekie” as many of your supporters call fans of the show. But there is one thing I would like you to ask yourself: Given the giant obstacles the lawsuit faces, why are you being encouraged to appeal?

The truth is that the #JusticeforAnas movement isn’t about helping you or independent creators, it’s about hurting CBS. It’s not about you or your game, you just happened to be the person that showed up with a seemingly-credible plagiarism allegation.

I hope you finish your game and it’s a big success. However, I fear that, even if Tardigrades is amazing, you’ll forever be known as the person that filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against CBS and not as a game developer. I understand wanting to prove your creation is your own, but that point has already been well-made.

Even if I can’t convince you that you weren’t plagiarized, it should be obvious that this lawsuit is not winnable. The gap between plagiarism and infringement is often wide under the best of circumstances and these are not the best of circumstances.

You, as an independent creator, are better served by creating. You have a game to finish. Being a pawn in a campaign against CBS doesn’t help that. While defending your work is sometimes necessary, this is an example of defending it to its detriment.

I hope you can see that. I hope your game is amazing. I hope to play it soon.


Jonathan Bailey

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