There have already been some crazy fan-based filings when it comes to the copyright infringement case between the studios that own Star Trek and a proposed fan-film. But the Language Creation Society has now upped the bar.
And they did it in Klingon.
The society, which was founded at the University of California-Berkeley, filed a “friend of the court” brief to say the Klingon language cannot be copyrighted.
“Klingon gave Star Trek characters convincing dialogue,” wrote attorney Marc Randazza of the Las Vegas-based Randazza Legal Group. “But it broke its chains and took on a life of its own — a life that the Copyright Act has no power to control.”
Randazza filed the brief with the California court hearing the suit CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures filed against Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters last December. It was in response to the studios’ claim, among dozens of other elements, that the Klingon language was created and owned by CBS and Paramount.
Erin Ranahan, the Winston & Strawn attorney representing Axanar pro bono, challenged the Klingon language claim and others in two motions to dismiss, saying languages cannot be copyrighted. However, Loeb & Loeb attorney David Grossman, who represents the studios in the lawsuit, said a language is “only useful if it can be used to communicate with people,” adding that “there are no Klingons with whom to communicate.”
The Language Creation Society disagrees. While the group made it clear it was not taking sides in the lawsuit, the group did implore Judge Robert Klausner to not allow the Klingon language to remain one of the copyrighted materials CBS and Paramount claimed the proposed “Star Trek: Axanar” and an already produced short infringed.
“Klingon, like any other spoken language, provides tools and a system for expressing ideas,” Randazza said. “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 law, and it is not why the Constitution allows Congress to provide copyright protection.”
The man credited with creating the language, Marc Okrand, does admit he created the language as a “work for hire.” That typically means the work product is not owned by him, but instead by his employer, who at the time was Paramount Pictures. However, that may not be enough to clear up who, if anyone, owns the language, he said.
“This is not the first time that who owns Klingon issue came up,” Okrand told a podcast earlier this month. “It is an artificial language that was created for hire … to the best of my knowledge, it has never been officially settled by anybody.”
Although the society shared some very serious points from their perspective, the group also had a little fun with its brief. Some of the words and phrases were provided in Klingon, using the actual characters created by Okrand, translated in footnotes at the bottom of each page. Randazza also joked that Okrand actually learned the language from a captured Klingon, based on an anecdote he wrote for “The Klingon Dictionary” in 1985.
“Now that Klingon has become an actual living language, Paramount seeks to reach out and stake its ownership by using copyright law,” Randazza said. “But as ‘Klingons do not surrender,’ neither do those who speak Klingon.”
Randazza then credited that line to the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “The Emissary,” which he cited both for its airdate — June 29, 1989 — and its stardate, 42901.3.
“There are groups of people for whom Klingon is their only common language,” Randazza said. “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.”
Randazza is referring to a 1996 story in the Washington City Paper that featured then 2-year-old Alec Speers, who was raised with Klingon as a first language. Speers continued to speak Klingon exclusively until he was 5, although some friends have later said if you ask him, he can still speak it.
Klausner, the judge in the case, will have the final ruling on this, at least in the preliminary hearing stage — a decision that could come as early as May 9. Even if Klausner agrees with the society, it would not necessarily kill the lawsuit CBS and Paramount have filed against Axanar. Instead, that particular claim would simply be removed from the complaint.
Expect the attorney for CBS and Paramount, David Grossman, to defend vigorously the Klingon language’s continuing inclusion in the lawsuit.
“The Klingon language is wholly fictitious, original and copyrightable,” the lawyer said in his own brief earlier this month.