June 29, 2022

Copyright Klingon? Not Quam Ghu’vam, IoD!

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By Ben Hancock, From The Recorder

SAN FRANCISCO — A copyright suit over a “Star Trek” spinoff has ignited a legal battle over whether made-up languages—and specifically Klingon— are copyrightable.

In an amicus brief filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District for California, the Language Creation Society argues that Paramount Pictures Corp. cannot own the language of the fictional Klingon alien race.

The brief supports a motion to dismiss that particular claim on behalf of Kickstarter-funded Axanar Productions Inc. The company has been fighting a much broader copyright suit since December as it produces a film about a war between the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire called “Prelude to Axanar.”

To say the filing is colorful doesn’t do it justice. Submitted by Marc Randazza of Las Vegas-based Randazza Legal Group, it is peppered with Klingon sayings­—including a translation of a phrase from the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.”

By the film studio’s logic, the brief argues, everyone who translates something into Klingon, writes a poem in Klingon, or gives a speech in Klingon at a Star Trek convention is a copyright infringer. It adds: “not Quam ghu’vam, IoD!” (For the uninitiated, that’s: “This will not stand, man!”)

Overall, the language group’s argument in Paramount v. Axanar, 15-9938, is that Klingon has taken on a life of its own since Paramount commissioned its creation by linguistics professor Marc Okrand in the early 1980s for the film “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.”

Okrand further developed the dialogue from that film into a functioning language and published a dictionary in 1985. Since then, entire groups of people have embraced it—teaching it to their children, exchanging marriage vows in Klingon, and even establishing the Klingon Language Institute, or KLI, which has translated works of Shakespeare into Klingon.

“Given that Paramount Pictures commissioned creation of some of the language, it is understandable that Paramount might feel some sense of ownership over the creation,” the brief says. “But, feeling ownership and having ownership are not the same thing.”

According to the brief, Paramount has actually claimed the rights to the Klingon language for many years, but has never asserted it in court until now—”most likely because the notion of it is meq Hutlh.” (Translation: “it lacks reasons.”)

Paramount once threatened to bring suit against the KLI, it says, but the institute avoided a clash by agreeing to license the use of the language. The fight appears to present a novel legal issue for U.S. District Judge Gary Klausner, who is presiding over the case.”

Just as ‘great men do not seek power, it is thrust upon them,’ this court now has the opportunity to weigh in on the copyrightability of language and declare that there is no basis in either law or policy to allow copyright in a spoken language,” the brief says, quoting a line from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

Paramount, represented by Loeb & Loeb, has been dismissive of the defendants’ contentions about Klingon. “[T]his 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,” Loeb & Loeb partner David Grossman wrote in an April filing.

The Language Creation Society, in its amicus brief, takes exception to that—calling it “an insulting assertion.”

“Many humans speak Klingon. … People get married in Klingon. Linguist d’armond Speers even spent three years teaching his infant son to speak Klingon. Speaking and writing in Klingon is not simply a matter of transposing words from a different language, either; it has an unusual grammatical structure that provides a different connotation than other languages.”

To give an example, the brief explains that the Sesame Street theme song lyrics “Sunny day, chasing the clouds away,” translated into Klingon are: “Day of the daytime star, the clouds are filled with dread and forced to flee.”

“In other words, Klingon is not just a language, but it is a state of mind,” it adds, “and that state cannot be constrained by copyright law.”

For more on this story and to view case document go to: http://www.therecorder.com/id=1202756303978/Copyright-Klingon-Not-Quam-Ghuvam-IoD#ixzz47EvjxjKh

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