Google Kills Tricorder Android App After CBS Sends A DMCA Takedown?

from the beam-me-up dept

This is pretty ridiculous. Brig C. McCoy alerts us to the news, via Slashdot, that CBS sent a DMCA takedown notice to Google because of the silly, but quite popular, Android tricorder app, which made your Android device look like a Star Trek tricorder.

Sorry Tricorder fans, Tricorder has been deleted from the Android Market by Google, at the demand of CBS’s legal weasels. This all happened without any discussion or warning — I was simply notified after the fact.

Since I don’t have legal weasels of my own, or the time to deal with this, that’s it for Tricorder.

It’s apparently the graphical design that’s at issue, not the name. According to Wikipedia, “Gene Roddenberry’s contract included a clause allowing any company able to create functioning technology to use the name”. Now that GR is dead, I guess CBS believes they own swoopy curves.

I do wonder if there’s a real copyright issue here at all, though I understand why the developer doesn’t feel like fighting it. Still, it’s a real shame that CBS feels the need to attack Star Trek fans for no good reason. Of course, given similar anti-fan statements from Eugene Roddenberry, it makes you wonder if the trail from CBS leads back further.

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Companies: cbs, google

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Comments on “Google Kills Tricorder Android App After CBS Sends A DMCA Takedown?”

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Jay (profile) says:

Just to let everyone know...

This is what the Tricorder app does:

-Detect nearby magnetic fields on the MAG screen.
-Use your phone like a level ruler on the GRAV screen
– dB sensor on Acoustic screen
– Show latitude and longitude through GPS and your cellular signal on the GEO screen
– Detect signal levels on the EM Spectrum scream (works only for wifi and cell frequency)
– Look at solar activity through SOL

In other words, this is a damn useful app for anyone in the engineering profession. Hell, if you like physics, this app has a very nice graphical view which just happens to look like a Star Trek device. If CBS wants to “own” it, they can just update it themselves. I’m keeping mine and I’m sure someone will update it as needed.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Just to let everyone know...

> I’m keeping mine and I’m sure someone
> will update it as needed.

I’ve often wondered if people who have already downloaded these apps before the takedowns come along do get to keep them. Sure, they’ll stay on the person’s iPhone or Android for the time being, but it would be a simple matter for the mothership (Apple, Google, etc.) to tell the phone to delete these ‘rogue’ apps the next time the person syncs it. It certainly wouldn’t surprise me if the copyright maximalists started demanding just this sort of thing as part of the takedown process.

el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Hanging Out?

Makes me wonder if the latter Roddenberry’s hang out with the latter Tolkiens, and other useless parasites still hanging on feverishly to their dead relative’s coattails. Maybe they have a clubhouse where they get together and decide how they can be even more hostile to the fans of the great works that preceded them. In the words of a great prophet of the 1950’s, “Get a job”.

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Hanging Out?

Even for five years. Who is being incentivized to create more work? The kids aren’t going to be incentivized.

I am not against the idea of copyright, but I don’t agree with our obscene terms. A flat 28 year copyright was more than enough when it was implemented. If that lives on after the life of the author, so be it. But the idea that we are writing into law that an authors grand children should profit from the work is crazy.

SpaceManOne (profile) says:

Re: Those damn dirty apes!!

Dear Techdirt.

I am issuing a DMCA shakedown on the post labeled “Those damn dirty apes!!”. I officially own the rights too these very words as they were issued from the very mouth of my great great cousin who was my 3rd cousin second removed from my step grandad on my mothers side.

Due to the legal issues and the fact that I need the money to pay for my Starbucks Premium Iced Coffee fix. I am requesting that you take any comment that uses that particular phrase from this internet board forthwith and to track down and remove all instances where someone has linked to the post and cached the information in any way across the internet tube thingy.

Thank you very much and have a good day…

Anonymous Coward says:

Good idea: Fund future development. Get the author to release different versions that correspond to the look of tricorders in the various series and movies to please purists. Fund new features. Foster an official message board for discussion of the app. Convert the app to easy skinnability and let the community modify and share their new skins. Give the developer access to the libraries for sound effects and voice acting used for the tricorders in the series. Tactfully insert links to marketing promos for buying Star Trek merchandise and promoting Star Trek conventions.

Bad idea: send DMCA takedown to kill the app

I wonder which idea the backwards-thinking dinosaur media conglomerate went with?

ArkieGuy (profile) says:

It's got to be the audio clip....

About the only part of the app in question that in ANY way reflects on Star Trek other than the name would be the sound the darn thing makes….

It doesn’t scan your body for broken bones, it doesn’t sniff for airborne particles of poison, it doesn’t… well… really anything the tricorder on Star Trek was supposed to do. But it is a cool app that SOUNDS like the tricorder. Must be copyright infringement (sounds like fair use to me). 😉

Ken (profile) says:

Worthless Offspring

This is the rub with making copyrights last so long and that is the worthless offspring mooching off their old man’s work. If there is any natural copyright it should never exceed the life of the originator. The worthless offspring can live off the interest and inheritance of the creator but they should not be kept courtesy of the United States government.

ike (profile) says:


I’m sorry, but this post isn’t warranted.

I honestly LOVE techdirt for all the dedication they put in reporting on these really important topics (and the no-fluff, no-nonsense, just-the-right amount of sarcasm language), which is why it deeply saddens me to see you become biased on some of the issues. Continuing along this path will turn you into what is now – while still a good resource, one needs to fact-check their stories vigorously to be able to rely on them.

As you identified in the posting, the issue here isn’t the name, but the look of the app. CBS has a trekkie information app for the iPad, and the look and feel of it is very LCARS like. But so does the tricorder android app, as seen here:
(CBS app on the left, moonblink’s android app to the right)

The left side menu, along with the top-left curve and top band, is pretty much a copy (or derivative) of the LCARS design, to which CBS (most probably) owns licensing rights, while the developer doesn’t. So while he is free do use the name (as you correctly point out), he may not use the visual interface without licensing it. Imho it’s shouldn’t even matter, as the tricorder did not feature a LCARS interface (afaik, I’m not a trekkie).

CBS’s takedown notice looks completely ok to me.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: o_O

The creator is a Trekkie. The intention is to look like a Trekkie type deal so that others, who are Trekkies and grew up with the series since the 70s can look at this very functional and cool app that is useful to others.

Maybe Kubrik’s estate should be able to take down the tablet.

Maybe CBS should make their own tricorder app with all of the sciencey goodness that this one provides. When you have a lawyer interested in physics, PLEASE let me know. Otherwise, the copyright takedown here is a useless one inhibiting the creation of a functional app.

The Infamous Joe (profile) says:

Re: o_O

CBS’s takedown notice looks completely ok to me.

I think you’ve missed the point of the post. It’s not that CBS is legally wrong here, although I always thought a copyright had to be for a specific expression, but what do I know. The point is that it makes no sense to block a free app that might infringe on their copyrights. We’re not talking trademarks here– they didn’t have to take it down. They wanted to. This guy is such a fan that he did all the work for *free*. Instead, they’ve gone out of their way to alienate at least one fan, and potentially many more, for no better reason than they can. That is the point.

ts says:

Re: o_O

Well on these grounds, I’m going to issue a takedown notice to techdirt because their website looks like my blog. I mean seriously, I thought of having a wide top banner, with the story underneath in the middle between 2 other columns. And all that blue… yeah, I’ve been ripped off. It’s just not possible for more than one person to come up with such a unique and innovative design.

The Logician says:

The actions taken by CBS are highly illogical, prompted by fear of competition and fear of technology. Nor is it logical that rights should extend beyond the death of a work’s creator, since said creator would then be incapable of creating new works. Nor should it last as long as it does in any case, but it does so at the behest of companies and individuals who are absolutely terrified of change and their own irrelevance. That fear clings to them like a pair of Tiberian bats and is the driving force behind every action they take. If we are to move toward the future envisioned by the elder Roddenberry, then such concepts as imaginary property must be discarded.

Victor Swindell (user link) says:


I love that app…Bet they will have it on the IPHONE, or better yet come out with a crappy version that we have to pay more for

But Star Trek Legal has always been interesting. When Paramount first put out the Star Trek font, their legal department wanted to sue anyone who used it.

What was told by one of the DS9 Actors was that TBTB Originally they wanted to name Morn, Norm..but the legal department wouldn?t allow it as it was taken from Cheers (which Paramount owned). Guess they would have sue themselves.

gccradioscience (profile) says:

Should Named It Something Else and Expand Features

Moonblink should of named it something else and change format to something more science related and educational to avoid infringement. Like tech meter or tri-meter. It was a great app for people who have to experiment with magnetism, electricity, and communications, not play science fiction role playing games like a 9 year old. There was no logo on the app, but the skin and the cheesy sounds were giving it away. If that is a problem why don’t he change the format to a different skin and use different open source sounds, but don’t do anything science fiction related. I did not install the app to role play, I needed it to measure magnetism, Wifi signal strength, and other features. And no it does not do what it does in the movies and TV. I was waiting for him to come out with a paid app to further his development for more scientific research in the tri field project and not do something tributing to a science fiction flick. I don’t watch science fiction that much than I used to, but still would recommend the app for hobbyists, and engineers. If he would bring it back be sure to name it something else and create a different skin and sounds and make it work better and faster.

jielaide says:

when stupidity meets greed...

Stupidity meets greed, and then copyright obsession joins in… and there you have it, another great idea and app taken down.

CBS… Ever heard of the term “fair use” or “non profit”? They were making no profit from your dear copyrighted Star Trek franchise. Couldn’t you just let this great app ( and, btw, possibly the BEST Star Trek app in the Store) go on?

Even better, couldn’t you come to an agreement with the developer to share earnings and continue the improvement of this awesome app?

No, it’s much better to kill it and let all of us, Star Trek fans, without our preferred app. Yeah makes perfect sense, a great eye for business .

Good I saved the apk and now I install it in every android phone I have!

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