As we reported earlier this month, Paramount Pictures is trying to block a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film based, in part, on the studio’s claim that it actually owns the copyright on the Klingon language. Now the Language Creation Society has chimed in on the case, making the argument that Paramount can’t claim ownership on a fictional language.
While Klingons have been part of the Star Trek universe since the original TV series, the actual Klingon language was not created until 1984 for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, produced by Paramount.
“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,” writes the LCS in a brief [PDFKlingonamici] filed yesterday with the federal court hearing the case. But, feeling ownership and having ownership are not the same thing.”
While Paramount has long asserted its ownership over the Klingon language, and official books published by groups like the Klingon Language Institute, have licensed the language from the studio, this is believed to be the first time Paramount has made a claim to ownership in a legal proceeding.
In its brief, the LCS contends that Klingon is no longer used solely within the context of a fictional universe, noting that Microsoft’s Bing search engine, allows users to translate text to and from Klingon.
“The popular television show The Big Bang Theory featured Klingon dialogue at several points, with one episode even featuring a game of Klingon Boggle,” adds the LCS. “Similarly, Klingon was substituted for Hebrew as a gag in the hit television show Frasier. A Swedish couple spoke their marriage vows in Klingon during a traditional Klingon wedding ceremony. Even foreign governments have seen fit to provide official statements in Klingon.”
In addition to arguing that a movie studio can not lay claim to an entire language known by millions of people throughout the world, the brief points out that Paramount cites “no authority supporting their assertion that Klingon (or any language) can be copyrighted.”
While you can try to trademark a single word or short phrase, U.S. copyright law, the LCS say it “does not give the copyright holder the right to exclude others from making use of the ideas or concepts themselves.”
The LCS says that works written in Klingon — or any other constructed language (or “conlanguage”) — are deserving of copyright protection. So the dialog in a Star Trek script would be covered, or a story written in Klingon, but that doesn’t mean the entire language can be copyrighted.
“Allowing copyright claims to a language would create a monopoly on use extending far beyond what is needed to protect the original work or to claim credit for the language’s creation,” writes the group in a blog post from today. “The potential threat of a lawsuit for merely using a conlang, or creating new works to make it more accessible, has a chilling effect; it makes conlangers, poets, authors, educators, and others less likely to build on and enjoy each others’ work, to the detriment of conlanging in general.”