Judge Reminds Vexatious Human Being That Ideas — Even Techno-Dragons With Guns — Are Not Protected By Copyright
from the oh,-and-also-this-was-some-sort-of-hate-crime,-apparently dept
When someone accuses someone else of “stealing their ideas” in a legal filing, there’s a good chance the lawsuit is doomed to fail. Ideas aren’t protected. Expressions of those ideas are, but only as long as there’s something significantly original about the expression(s) in question. Simply declaring that someone “stole” something isn’t going to cut it.
In a dismissal that runs longer than the complaint preceding it, a New York district court breaks it all down for the pro se complainant. Here are the original allegations.
In January 2014, L’Poni Baldwin published a book called The Society on Da Run: Dragons and Cicadas. This book infringes on my book Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate, which was published in 2005.
Ms. Baldwin’s book involves “Space Dragons”, which are identical to the space dragons in Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate. Ms. Baldwin also used a “Dragon God,” which is identical to the dragon god Dennagon in my book Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate.
Ms. Baldwin also combines futuristic technology and dragons in her book, which is a copy of the fact that I used futuristic technology and dragons in my book. She also includes a dragon city and spaceships, which were also in my writing.
Furthermore, she has another book called Tarnished: Tales of Broken Dragons and 300 Other Stories. This book involves aliens fighting dragons, which is identical to the concept of one of my comic books, Dragons Vs. Aliens.
In addition, she has another book called Dragonworld ETC, which is a ripoff of a term I used in Dragons. Dragonworld in my writing referred to the dragons’ homeworld.
In her saga, she also makes use of “cybernetic dragons”, which was a creature in my book (except in Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate, they were called Technodragons). She also has the dragons using weapons, which is a ripoff of my world where the dragons use swords and guns.
All this leads up to perhaps one of the most unlikely allegations to ever grace a copyright infringement complaint.
As my book came out in 2005, it is my belief that she stole my writing. Research indicates that she is black. As I am a well-known Asian Supremacist, I believe she may have done this as an act of retaliation.
The complainant, Kenneth Eng, ain’t lying. His editorials (read: racist screeds) got AsianWeek in hot water back in 2007. Using the “voice of Asian America” as a vehicle for a rant entitled “Why I Hate Blacks” wasn’t well-received. Apparently, this is what Eng does when not writing dragons-and-guns books. (He also posts videos praising the Virginia Tech shooter and gets arrested for assault and harassment in his down time.)
This bit of race-baiting paranoia is referenced in a footnote by Judge Vitaliano but the bulk of the dismissal is a reminder that ideas — especially those that are “significantly common” — simply aren’t copyrightable. Not only that, but even given the amount of leeway granted pro se complainants, one of the key ingredients to a successful lawsuit is actually stating an actionable claim.
It is clear that Eng, as told by him in his complaint, has seized hold of similarities between his ideas, as expressed in “Dragons: Lexicon Triumvirate,” and Baldwin’s, as expressed in her own works. Far from being “original” in a legal sense, the ideas which Eng purports to own are similarly common in the corpus of American science fiction and fantasy. Moreover, plaintiff entirely fails to identify how Baldwin’s expressions are in any way substantially similar to his own, and even the most cursory comparison of the works in question can make clear that the authors express their common ideas quite differently.
For instance, Eng alleges that the “dragon gods” in Baldwin’s stories are “identical” to what the character Dennagon becomes in his own novel. But, where Eng’s supreme dragon realized singular, limitless power through contact with the titular Lexicon artifact, and made himself one with eternity itself, the “dragon gods” of Baldwin’s writings are many, less-than-omnipotent, and preoccupied with mundane concerns.
Kudos to the judge for being willing to wade into roughly comparable texts dealing with dragons, techno-dragons, gun-wielding dragons and dragon gods in order to make this point. Eng was asking for a mere $10 million for this imagined violation and the judge hasn’t entirely closed the door on this particular case. Eng will be allowed to re-plead, even though it seems clear that doing so will probably be a waste of everyone’s time (except possibly Eng’s, who very obviously needs some sort of constructive hobby).
For the foregoing reasons, Eng has failed to state a claim of copyright infringement upon which relief may be granted. These claims must be dismissed, but without prejudice and with leave to amend, should Eng be able in good faith to identify any protected expression in his work-rather than unprotectable ideas or concepts that defendant has allegedly infringed.
In the meantime, Eng is pursuing another infringement lawsuit against “Fox Group Legal” and variety of linked names for supposedly stealing his script entitled “The Theory of Everything.” According to Eng, he submitted (presumably unsolicited) his script to production company Circle of Confusion in 2009 and now notes this company (which has produced a lot of Walking Dead episodes) is apparently utilizing a bunch of Eng’s script elements in its produced work. (I’m extrapolating a lot here. The filing’s wording leaves a lot to be desired.)
Eng is seeking $5 million “from all parties,” of which there are four or five, depending on which page of the filing you read. This could mean Eng expects a $20-25 million payoff, or something more in the range of $1 million per defendant. Again, Eng’s wording is less than precise but as written, it tends to indicate the latter. Oddly, unlike most copyright lawsuits, Eng expressly designates that he would prefer no jury trial.
Even terrible people can have their copyright infringed, but even the best people can’t claim that general/universal ideas are somehow solely their property and that anyone else who thinks it would be cool if a dragon carried a gun/lived in the future “stole” their work. Eng shouldn’t have his lawsuits disregarded simply because he’s unpleasant. But measuring them solely on their merits isn’t likely to raise anyone’s estimation of him.