Plagiarism: Not Just for College
Star Trek: Discovery is, allegedly, a product of plagiarism. I want to say I’m absolutely shook, but the reality is, I’m not. CBS is a huge corporation. Netflix—which streams Discovery internationally—is a huge corporation. Star Trek is huge. You see where I’m going with this? CBS and Netflix have the power to steal ideas from smaller creators and then hush it up. And when those creators speak up? CBS and Netflix have the power to either bully them into giving up or simply ignore them into giving up.
But, sometimes, those creators clap back. Egyptian game developer Anas Abdin is suing CBS “over allegations the CBS All Access series ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ included several plot elements he had introduced in a game he created,” according to Media Play News contributor John Latchem. As of right now, CBS hasn’t released a statement regarding the lawsuit.
Where can we point fingers? According to The Hollywood Reporter contributor Chris E. Hayner, former showrunner Bryan Fuller left his outline for the show when he left. New showrunners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts are using Fuller’s outline for the first season, and trying to keep as much of his original vision as possible. Harberts told THR, “I feel like a lot of the themes he wanted explored, we’re still trying to address.”
Hayner notes “it’s hard to tell exactly how much of Fuller’s work will make it to the screen…the show wasn’t in production or even cast when he [Fuller] was pushed out.” Fuller may not be involved anymore, but his former Discovery co-creators insist that he still has an influence. Just not a physical one, and not one he actively participates in.
Abdin’s “point-and-click adventure game,” called Tardigrades, was announced in May 2014, a year before Discovery was announced. The show didn’t premiere until 2017. According to Abdin’s blog, “The game is about a civilization that lived on Earth 20,000 years ago. They are on the verge of intergalactic travel using giant Tardigrades to travel anywhere in the universe. The main character, Carter, is a botanist whom will discover later in the game the connection between the super tough creature and instantaneous space travel.”
According to the Memory Alpha wiki page, the Discovery tardigrades were “noted to be incredibly regenerative and assessed as being virtually indestructible. When faced with adverse conditions, the creature could go into a state of extreme cryptobiosis as a survival mode. This reduced the water content of its body to less than one percent and slowed its vital signs to the point that they could barely be detected.”
In both the show and the game, the tardigrades can travel through space. Both creatures also look incredibly similar. But, this could be due to the fact that they are designed almost exactly after the real creatures. As stated on LiveScience.com, tardigrades are “near-microscopic animals with long, plump bodies and scrunched-up heads. They have eight legs, and hands with four to eight claws on each”. In real life, tardigrades are nearly indestructible. They can also survive in space, making them a great addition to any sci-fi media.
Sci-fi vs. Sci-fact
An article by Rock Paper Shotgun contributor John Walker proposes the idea that “It’s entirely plausible both projects were inspired by similar ideas and developed entirely independently, regardless of both coming to light around the same time.” He writes extensively on the fact that if you Google “tardigrade space travel” you don’t get any Discovery hits; “What you see instead is years and years of popular science articles about the seemingly invincible little Earth beasties, and their notorious ability to survive in a vacuum. And in space.”
I can respect this take; sometimes, people have the same ideas. There’s a ton of inspirational material in the world. Sometimes two things come about that are extremely similar, but not because of any creative malice. Sometimes it’s just a coincidence.
It has also been brought to light that many of the actors cast on Discovery look eerily similar to Abdin’s game characters. On his blog, Abdin addresses this by saying, “To their defense, I think having a diverse crew is very relevant. It’s just the too much coincidental appearances of the characters that may put my project into a weird situation”. In his post, Abdin provides videos and gifs comparing his game to the show.
Walker discussed the other side of this point with Abdin in his interview. He wrote, “The tardigrade is unusual, but beyond that the other similarities Abdin mentions could be found in any number of new television series. It seems astoundingly unlikely that Star Trek’s producers would have cast the show to match the pixel art of an unreleased game.”
According to timestamps, Tardigrades was announced and developed before Discovery. But, Abdin is concerned that fans of the show will think his game is copying the series. Abdin told John Walker, ‘“I used to make doodles and pixel art almost daily, and share them via Twitter…Until this happened. I can’t focus on anything. I can’t draw, I can’t even touch my guitar. Professionally speaking, my work has been affected.”’
“For Abdin,” Walker wrote, “the most important thing is that his integrity be recognized, and his authenticity understood. What he wants is for everyone to know that his ideas were his own, and after that, some sort of answer from CBS.”
Abdin stated on his blog on August 21, “The last 10 months were so hard on me and the development of the project. I tried every possible way to have a respectful and reasonable discussion with CBS but they treated me in disrespect and just dangled me around with postponing meetings due to their vacations and being busy. The first conversation turned into the last one. I gave them a lot of time to make things right. Unfortunately, I found myself at a dead end with them, and so I had to enforce my rights by filing a lawsuit to treat me seriously.”
Why Plagiarism is Bad
Imagine this: you’re a content creator. You make art or write stories, or do any number of creative works for people to consume and enjoy. And then, one day, you turn on the TV, or log into Tumblr, or check the sale section on Dolls Kill, and there’s your art/story/senior thesis on display. And people love it. It’s doing great. Except it’s not yours. Someone stole it, and now your idea is all over the place with someone else’s name on it. No credit to you, and no compensation. And if that someone has a bigger influence than you, it’s harder to get that media taken down or rightfully credited to you.
Big corporations steal from smaller creators all the time (most notably the fashion industry), and most of the time they don’t own up to it and fix their mistake. They know exactly what they’re doing. They have the influence and the legal power to completely obliterate a small creator. Huge companies and corporations can trample a person’s life and career in an instant. They can’t come up with anything interesting, so they prowl Instagram and steal instead. Here’s an idea: pay artists for their ideas and give them credit.
Bottom line, there’s a difference between taking inspiration from someone else’s work, and straight-up copying and claiming it’s yours. That’s the real-life-consequences equivalent of tracing someone’s art but telling your mom you drew it when you were just learning how to draw in third grade.
As far as this lawsuit goes, the evidence is pretty damning. But it’s still unclear if this is a coincidence or a case of straight-up plagiarism. Without a statement from CBS, we only have one side of the story. Hopefully, we’ll get the other side soon.