The latest salvo in a lawsuit over a Star Trek fan film has brought out constructed language nerds in force, and it makes for some really great reading.
Since December 2015, Paramount and CBS have been pursuing a copyright suit against Axanar Productions, the producers of a Star Trek fan film called Axanar that raised more than a million dollars in a crowdfunding campaign. As The Hollywood Reporter has laid out in their coverage of the lawsuit, it’s mostly been a back and forth over what precisely has allegedly been infringed upon and what parts of the Star Trek universe are legitimately protected by copyright.
The Language Creation Society, a nonprofit initially born out of a UC Berkeley student group, which promotes the use and creation of languages, filed an Amicus brief by attorneys Marc Randazza and Alex Shepard on April 27 in support of the producers of Axanar, the fan film in question, supporting their claims that Klingon language shouldn’t be subject to copyright.
Let’s run it down quickly: In February, the producers of Axanar filed a motion to dismiss Paramount and CBS’ suit on a number of grounds, including a claim that the companies were being overly broad in their claims. Paramount responded by filing an amended complaint listing a number of items in Axanar violating their copyright, including the Klingon language. Then Axanar producers cited an 1879 Supreme Court case, Baker v. Selden, to argue that Klingon is a useful unto itself and thus not copyrightable. Paramount’s lawyers say this is absurd, since there are no real Klingons with whom to speak the language.
But for constructed language enthusiasts, this is beside the point. The Klingon language has developed a fanbase and culture of its own since its creation in the 1985. That includes fluent speakers (and master’s theses about them); dictionaries; and the Klingon Language Institute, a nonprofit whose stated purpose is to “facilitate the scholarly exploration of the Klingon language and culture.” (Though, admittedly, that purpose is followed by a note acknowledging Paramount’s Star Trek copyrights and trademarks.)
The Language Creation Society believes this infrastructure and independent usage are evidence that Klingon should be free from the bounds of copyright.
The brief notes that “No court has squarely addressed the issue of whether a constructed spoken language is entitled to copyright protection,” and conclude that “Klingon gave Star Trek characters convincing dialogue. But, it broke its chains and took on a life of its own— a life that the Copyright Act has no power to control.”
For good measure, the society makes liberal use of Klingon language and proverbs, written in the Klingon alphabet (with translations provided in footnotes), throughout its brief.
That last sentence means “we succeed together in a great whole.”
That’s the phrase “a fool and his head are soon parted.”
That’s them saying the claim ” lacks reasons.”
And that is the LCS saying that “Plaintiffs will learn that brute strength is not the most important asset in a fight.”
Alongside the Klingon phrases scattered throughout the text are references to Klingon usage in the zeitgeist, including a citation of an episode of Frasier and people holding “traditional” Klingon weddings with vows spoken in Klingon.
Whether the brief will help sway the court in a hearing scheduled for May 9 remains to be seen, but it’s a joy to read. For my money, it’s also wonderful to see what is essentially (very serious) fun being had in demonstrating a point in a legal proceeding.
It’s also a pretty clear publicity stunt, but damn if it isn’t one that walks the walk by talking the (Klingon) talk.
You can check out the the full thing on DocumentCloud, or below.