’Star Trek’ Lawsuit: The Debate Over Klingon Language Heats Up
A federal judge gets an earful of Klingon proverbs from a language society intent on making sure that Paramount Pictures can't claim ownership. When Paramount and CBS ended last year with [a lawsuit]("http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/thr-esq/crowdfunded-star-trek-movie-draws-851474") over a crowdfunded *Star Trek *fan film titled *Axanar*, the two studios probably had no idea that they were about to get mired in an esoteric legal debate about the protectability of the Klingon language. But that's exactly what's happened, and with the language of digital coding hanging in the background, a California federal judge's forthcoming decision could hold significance — so large, in fact, that this otherwise run-of-the-mill copyright action has now drawn an amicus brief from a language society that quotes a Klingon proverb translated as "we succeed together in a greater whole."
To review, after the *Star Trek *rights holders filed their complaint, the defendant production company demanded particulars of the franchise’s copyrighted elements. In response, Paramount and CBS listed a lot, 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.”
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 with background 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 shortcomings of The Hollywood Reporter’s font system precludes quoting some of the more entertaining moments of this brief (read in full below), but here’s a look at how Paramount is being blasted as “arrogant” and “pathetic” in Klingon:
Now, with 250,000 copies of a Klingon dictionary said to have been sold, Klingon language certification programs being offered, the Microsoft search engine Bing presenting English-to-Klingon translations, one Swedish couple performing their marriage vows in Klingon, foreign governments providing official statements in Klingon and so on, the Language Creation Society is holding up Klingon as having freed the “bounds of its textual chains.”
I can’t wait to see how the court rules. The Language Creation Society is not to be trifled with. I heard one member interviewed who was commissioned to create two languages for Game of Thrones.
I would say that Paramount invented a few Klingon words but the fans created the Klingon *language *and should prevail.