Monday, May 2, 2016

Paramount & CBS Suing Trek Fan-Filmers // Claiming Copyright Ownership of the Klingon Language

Late last year, Paramount and CBS filed a lawsuit against the makers of a "Star Trek"-themed fan-film called "Axanar." Axanar's creators raised over $1 million in crowdfund money for their movie and Paramount -- normally quite permissive when it comes to encouraging fans -- decided that enough was enough:
Paramount and CBS, represented by attorneys at Loeb & Loeb, are now demanding an injunction as well as damages for direct, contributory and vicarious copyright infringement. Although the plaintiffs have allowed ample cosplaying over the years and even permitted other derivatives like amateur Star Trek shows to circulate, the lawsuit illustrates that there is a place where no man has gone before, where the entertainment studios are not willing to let be occupied: crowdfunded, professional-quality films that use copyrighted "elements" like Vulcans and Klingons, Federation starships, phasers and stuff like the "look and feel of the planet, the characters’ costumes, their pointy ears and their distinctive hairstyle."
Here is one of the more interesting elements of the lawsuit: Paramount and CBS are claiming copyright ownership of the Klingon language:
Paramount and CBS listed many, but what drew most attention was claimed entitlement to the Klingon language. The defendant then reached back to a 19th century Supreme Court opinion for the proposition that Klingon is not copyrightable as a useful system.

On April 11, that drew an entertaining response from the flummoxed plaintiffs.

"This argument is absurd since a language is only useful if it can be used to communicate with people, and there are no Klingons with whom to communicate," stated a plaintiffs' brief authored by David Grossman at Loeb & Loeb. "The Klingon language is wholly fictitious, original and copyrightable, and Defendants' incorporation of that language in their works will be part of the Court's eventual substantial similarity analysis. Defendants' use of the Klingon language in their works is simply further evidence of their infringement of Plaintiffs' characters, since speaking this fictitious language is an aspect of their characters."
Axanar's creators are pushing back:
Before U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner gets a chance to rule on a motion to dismiss, he's now being asked permission to review a friend-of-the-court brief from the Language Creation Society.
The brief, authored by Marc Randazza, begins by noting that the Klingon language was invented in 1984 by Marc Okrand for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

"Before that, when actors played Klingons in Star Trek television programs or movies, they simply uttered guttural sounds or spoke in English (Federation Standard)," writes Randazza. "Given that Paramount Pictures commissioned the creation of some of the language, it is understandable that Paramount might feel some sense of ownership over the creation. But, feeling ownership and having ownership are not the same thing. The language has taken on a life of its own. Thousands of people began studying it, building upon it, and using it to communicate among themselves."
The article notes that 250,000 copies of a Klingon dictionary have been sold, there are Klingon language certification programs, and there are English-to-Klingon translation programs. There was even a couple who wrote their wedding vows in the Klingon language!

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