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Language Creation Society Says Klingon Language Isn't Covered By Copyright 220

Reader AmiMoJo writes: Earlier this year Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios filed a lawsuit against the makers of a Star Trek inspired fan film, accusing them of copyright infringement. In their amicus brief, which actually uses Klingon language, the Language Creation Society lists many examples of how Klingon has evolved, and it specifically disputes Paramount's earlier claims that there are no human beings who communicate using the Klingon language. "In fact, there are groups of people for whom Klingon is their only common language. There are friends who only speak Klingon to each other. In fact, at least one child was initially raised as a native speaker of Klingon." As such, Paramount should not be allowed to claim copyright over the entire Klingon language, both in written and spoken form. The language is a tool for people to communicate and express ideas, something people should be allowed to do freely under U.S. law, LCS argues.
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Language Creation Society Says Klingon Language Isn't Covered By Copyright

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  • Maybe if this goes well it can wrest Elvish away from the Tolkien estate
    • Re: Elvish (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 30, 2016 @12:09PM (#52019047)

      Tolkien actually invented the elvish languages himself, in full. A professional linguist was simply hired by the studio to flesh out the bits that James Doohan made up for the star trek movies. I'd be interested in seeing how that distinction plays out legally

      • by saizai ( 1178155 )

        Not really relevant to the arguments in our amicus brief. Same would apply to any conlang.

      • by Chas ( 5144 )

        The other thing is, Mark Okrand (the guy who fleshed out the Klingon language) has sold books on the Klingon Language.

        * The Klingon Dictionary
        * Klingon for the Galactic Traveler
        * Conversational Klingon (this had an accompanying Audiobook with Michael Dorn).

        Unlike Tolkien, an actual effort was made to push Klingon out into the fanbase and public at large.

        Now they're trying to take their ball and go home.

        TOUGH SHIT.

        It's like the estate of L.L. Zamenhof trying to take back Esperanto.

        Also, unless Paramount and

        • Re: Elvish (Score:5, Informative)

          by saizai ( 1178155 ) <> on Saturday April 30, 2016 @01:45PM (#52019437) Homepage

          Simple response to this: you can't assign IP that you don't own to begin with. ("Work for hire" is a sort of presumptive assignment doctrine.)

          Our argument is that a language *can't* be copyrighted at all in the first place, so it doesn't really matter who made it or what contracts they had.

          Of course, the *books* can be copyrighted, and the movies, and the scripts, etc. And they can use trademark to control what's "official" (mostly). But not the language itself.

          • by Teun ( 17872 )
            Or don't call it a language.
          • Re: Elvish (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            What, are you Klingons or Feringi?! Just declare war on Paramount. This is coming from a Federation native. Even we wouldn't let someone charge us for our language... Ugh!

        • Unlike Tolkien, an actual effort was made to push Klingon out into the fanbase and public at large.

          Strange, I know more people speaking elvish than people speaking Klingon. Funnily they dress as Klingons on fan conventions ... weird world.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          So the studios are actually trying to steal Mark Okrand's work by suing others who are just using it. There is also the matter of allowing use for an extended period, decades without contest allowing rights to end and not copyright because a language is not copyrightable just the content created with it is ie you can not make up a word and than claim copyright on it, especially with regard to close associations with foreign languages when making up words in other languages, just changing definition does no

  • by Theovon ( 109752 ) on Saturday April 30, 2016 @11:44AM (#52018921)

    There may or may not be patentable aspects of conlangs, but a language is an idea, and you can’t copyright ideas. You can copyright a BOOK on a language, but not the language itself.

    • by saizai ( 1178155 ) <> on Saturday April 30, 2016 @01:25PM (#52019345) Homepage

      Can't comment on this directly because it's out of scope for us.

      However, the API cases are certainly related law. I suggest you google "Charles Duan" + Klingon, Oracle, Lexmark, and/or Cisco. You'll get relevant info; he writes well, both for posts and amicus briefs.

  • Side Note (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    FWIW: Klingon is no longer listed as one of the translatable languages on Google's "Translate" site ... no idea when it disappeared.


  • LCS rep here (Score:5, Informative)

    by saizai ( 1178155 ) <> on Saturday April 30, 2016 @12:30PM (#52019107) Homepage

    See [] for our press release giving background, links to all the case docs, and a formal legal memorandum from Dentons on conlangs & IP law.

    Feel free to ask if you have any questions.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Thanks for taking the time. I don't know if you have any insight, but do you have any idea why Paramount is bringing the lawsuit? They have traditionally been tolerant of fan works.

      • by saizai ( 1178155 )

        Sorry, but I can't comment on that — both because it's outside of our scope (we're strictly in this for the language aspect) and it'd be speculation.

    • by John.Banister ( 1291556 ) * on Saturday April 30, 2016 @01:15PM (#52019299) Homepage
      Have you considered resolving this dispute in a traditional Klingon manner? It would be fun to see a Paramount executive attempting to enforce copyright with a bat'leth.
    • The lawsuit seems to be around the "product" of a fan-fic and I think it's entirely reasonable for Star Trek to own the rights to the Star Trek universe, or for lawyers to argue that at least.

      Klingon itself, however... If you're defending the language as a standalone concept can the defence cite *any* hearty examples of the language being used outside of the sci-fi universe? I saw one video on youtube of the "to be or not to be" soliloquy. But surely that's a demonstration of the quip in the show about "Ham

      • by saizai ( 1178155 )

        Actually, the whole of Hamlet has been translated. Not just the soliloquy.

        I believe we would take the same position in your hypothetical test case, though I highly doubt it would get litigated.

  • Take Esperanto. Clearly this falls under the "useful system" rubric; it was intended by its creator to be a useful system to exchange ideas.

    Now consider a hypothetical. Suppose Paramount produced a movie about an eccentric scholar who invents a universal language. They go so far as to hire a linguist to construct the rudiments of such a language. In that case the language is constructed to give the most convincing artistic impression of a constructed language possible. It's not designed to be useful, i

  • by swm ( 171547 ) <> on Saturday April 30, 2016 @02:58PM (#52019687) Homepage

    In the Oracle vs. Google Java case, the judge asked the parties, "Can the Java programming language be copyrighted?"
    It seemed obvious to me that the answer was no.

    The definition of the Java programming language is, "the set of all Java programs".
    This is an infinite set.
    Therefore it cannot be fixed in a tangible medium.
    Therefore it cannot be copyrighted.

    It seems like a similar argument should prevail here.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      They didn't try to claim ownership of the language though, just material parts of it like the code in header files or the API definitions.

    • I don't think your argument would work, for several reasons, even if it weren't factually incorrect.

      The definition of the Java programming language is, "the set of all Java programs". This is an infinite set.

      Only if you allow infinitely-long programs. Any finite limit on program length -- no matter how large -- means the number of possible programs is finite. Unimaginably large, but finite.

  • Has Klingon ever been officially released to open source, like Swift?

    • by Livius ( 318358 )

      First versus second language is not really an issue if the child is young enough. And after a certain age children will speak the same way as their peers in the same age group no matter what their parents try to do.

    • by saizai ( 1178155 )

      In fairness, his wife spoke English with the kid, and he stopped when the kid was clearly rejecting the Klingon.

      (Though also, that would probably have happened with other cases of one parent speaking one language to the kid, while understanding the dominant language used by everyone else. No reason to bother learning a language that is not necessary for communicating with anyone, including the person speaking it.)

      • Yeah, I saw that later. The summary looked a bit weird regarding this.

        Raising kids bilingual in a dominated environment works easy if both parents always talk their primary language, e.g. a friend of mine is more or less german and his wife is french. She speaks always french, to him and the kids. He speaks always german to his wife and the kids.

        It is a bit weird if you see a couple talking to each other using different languages but the kids speak perfect french now (the dominant language) and with age of

  • I mean, a language is an encoding of copyrightable works, not the copyrightable works themselves.

    If they wanted to protect a kind of encoding, shouldn't Paramount have applied for a patent on it before publishing a multitude of books encouraging people to use it?

  • In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

    The plaintiff has to prove that Mark Okrand's work is expressive rather than functional. Since there are many languages, and they use different words and grammar for the same things, the plaintiff may indeed be able to prove this, and they

  • So, how do you say "Streisand Effect" in Klingon?

Every little picofarad has a nanohenry all its own. -- Don Vonada