Lawyers battle over attempt to copyright a language

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by rpenner, May 13, 2016.

  1. rpenner Fully Wired Staff Member

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    Marc Randazza wrote an amici brief last month for the Language Creation Society to argue that Paramount Studios should not be able to claim ownership and copyright control of the Klingon language in their lawsuit attempting to shut down Axanar Productions weirdly high quality production of Star Trek materials and attempt to distribute a feature-length film.

    [PDF]

    The brief is notable for it's use of fine language, English and Klingon both, to argue its case.

    h/t: popehat.com
     
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  3. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    What's the Klingon for "patent trolling douchebags"?
     
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  5. rpenner Fully Wired Staff Member

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    Many documents of the case are here: http://www.archive.org/details/gov.uscourts.cacd.636636/

    On the narrow point of the language issue,

    2016-04-27 Docket 35 is a petition to add the Amicus Curiae brief linked to in the OP. It provides addition background on the who and why of it.
    2016-05-03 Docket 38 is CBS/Paramount opposing the petition
    2016-05-04 Docket 40 is the reply of the Language Creation Society.
    2016-05-06 Docket 41 is the response of Axanar/Alec Peters
    2016-05-09 Docket 42 is the judgment of the court that LCS's facts are not needed at this time.
    2016-05-09 Docket 43 is the judgment of the court denying Axanar/Alec Peters's motion to dismiss. From here on, the lawsuit gets very expensive so this is a crucial point with regard to considering settlement.
    To prove copyright infringement, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that the “protectable elements, standing alone, are substantially similar,” so the Court must “filter out and disregard the non-protectable elements in making [its] substantial similarity determination.” Funky Films, Inc. v. Time Warner Entm’t Co., L.P., 462 F.3d 1072, 1077 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Williams v. Crichton, 84 F.3d 581, 588 (2d Cir. 1996)). Defendants argue that the Court must “filter out” non-protectable elements of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works. Defendants contend that non-protectable elements include the following: (1) costumes; (2) geometric shapes (e.g., the Starfleet command insignia); (3) words and short phrases (e.g., the names of planets or races); (4) elements of works derived from nature, the public domain, or third party works (e.g., Vulcans’ appearance with pointy ears or the concept of warp drive); (5) the Klingon language; (6) the mood or theme of “science fiction action adventure”; (7) scenes-a-faire elements (e.g., staples of science fiction such as starships and medals on uniforms); and (8) characters identified by Plaintiffs (e.g., Garth of Izar, Soval, and Robau). The Court finds that Defendants’ argument mischaracterizes the scope of Plaintiffs’ copyright claims.

    When viewed in a vacuum, each of these elements may not individually be protectable by copyright. Plaintiffs, however, do not seek to enforce their copyright in each of these elements individually. Rather, Plaintiffs’ copyright infringement claims are based on the Star Trek Copyrighted Works as a whole. The Complaint clearly defines the works at issue (the Star Trek Copyrighted Works), and includes the copyright registration numbers for the motion pictures and the first episode of each television series. The Court finds it unnecessary to analyze whether the allegedly non-protectable elements of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works are eligible for copyright protection because Plaintiff describes these elements in the Complaint solely in an effort to demonstrate how the Axanar Works are substantially similar to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works.​
     
    Last edited: May 13, 2016
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  7. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I can understand why someone might want to copyright a language that he created for the exclusive purpose of using it in a book, movie or other work of art. But his problem will be, indeed, the exclusivity.

    If the work of art (or multiple works of art, such as sequels to a book or a movie, or a TV show that runs every week) becomes popular enough, there's a huge geek population who are going to learn the language. They'll speak it among themselves, then write their own fan magazines, and eventually somebody will write a song.

    At this point the copyright issue is moot. If you hear two people on the subway carrying on a jolly conversation about the day's news, or what happened at work this week, in a language you invented for elves or aliens, you're not going to have much luck prosecuting them for copyright infringement. Not to mention, it will make you look like a complete asshole: people like what you created so much that they've integrated it into their daily lives, and you want to SUE THEM for it???

    Isn't this what every artist dreams of?
     
  8. rpenner Fully Wired Staff Member

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  9. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Even the Bible has been translated into Klingon.

    Klingon is the only alien language in the Star Trek canon that has been spoken enough on screen for people to analyze it. Surely much more to work with than the Elvish in Lord of the Rings.
     
  10. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

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    Very interesting.

    I agree with the Amicus:

    "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. Klingon, like any other spoken language, provides tools and a system for expressing ideas. No one has a monopoly over these things, effectively prohibiting anyone from communicating in a language without the creator’s permission. This is not permitted by the law, and it is not why the Constitution allows Congress to provide copyright protection."

    It is somewhat like the copyright for a trade-name that gets into the general lexicon and you lose the copyrightability. Coca-Cola lost the right to the use of the term Cola as a trade-name, and others adopted it (Pepsi-Cola, RC-Cola, etc.). Their reference to it being Coke (not Coke-Cola) shot them in the foot. And people started talking about Cola beverages that merely tasted similar. (and not necessarily having the Cola nut extract as an ingredient)

    Xerox ran into the same problem, as early-on people started talking about making a xerox, when they meant making a photocopy. Xerox worked hard to protect their name.

    Klingon took a life of its own, far beyond that of its original intention, and I believe that while the actual dialogue of those episodes are copyrightable, the use of Klingon for other purposes no longer is.

    And no, I do not speak or sing in Klingon.

    http://klingonska.org/songs/

    https://www.bing.com/videos/search?...D283AE026D7F8505DD88D283AE026D7F850&FORM=VIRE


     
    Last edited: May 15, 2016
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Yet somehow they've managed to hang onto the ownership of "Coke."
    There's no hyphen in RC Cola--which was originally Royal Crown Cola.
    It's damnably difficult to hang onto a trade name, when you're the inventor of the thing that the trade name identifies. Victrola, Thermos, Kodak, it's a long list.

    It's even more difficult when your success results in your product being sold in countries where English is not the official or dominant language. When I traveled through eastern Europe in the 1970s, the word for "refrigerator" in many countries was "frigidaire." They seemed to appreciate the J sound, which helped make the word popular. Most of their languages don't have that phoneme, but they can all pronounce it because their languages have both D and ZH, which become J when they're run together.
    "Star Trek" is a phenomenon. Over nearly half a century, it's had three re-boots, with three new captains, in three new milieux. Not to mention the movies--of which I've lost count. I'm sure there will be another one (TV or theatrical) before long--it's just about time!

    "Trekkies" are some of the most devoted fans on earth. I'm sure that they rival the devotees of some professional sports teams--in both number and enthusiasm. They've taken everything they could take from the series and turned it into a sort of reality. A language? Well of course!
    I'm sure that the effort and devotion this requires would elevate you to the highest level of the Trekkie community.

    A bit of Star Trek trivia: The original series was always in jeopardy of being canceled, and one of the major reasons was that it was horribly expensive to produce. Desilu Productions was the bankroll. By now Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball had divorced and she had full ownership of the corporation. At one point she had to liquidate virtually all of her other assets in order to keep the corporation's only production on the air.

    She really loved "Star Trek" and believed in it, and almost singlehandedly kept it on the air when it was struggling. Anyone who loves "Star Trek" should wear an "I Love Lucy" button.

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    Last edited: May 16, 2016
  12. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

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    Good to know. I was a star trek enthusiast when it first came out.
     
  13. Daecon Kiwi fruit Valued Senior Member

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    Don't forget Biros (ballpoint pens) and Hoovers (vacuum cleaners).
     

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