Before last week, you may have never heard of the Language Creation Society, a California non-profit that has about 140 members in 25 countries, according to its website.
The LCS has a strong cause — supporting those who enjoy constructing new languages, or those who support it. In fact, a flyer for the organization promotes these language constructers, or “conlangers,” as those who do it “as a hobby, as an art form, or as an intellectual pastime.” Sometimes these conlangers want to encourage others to speak the language and even actively promote them, other times these creators simply want to keep that language to themselves as “very personal statements.”
Or, as something that didn’t make the promotional flyer, sometimes conlangers want to use a language they paid to develop as part of a fictional story, but the LCS feels it should be free for all to use, whether it’s in copyrighted works or not.
That’s the position attorney Marc Randazza took in late April when, on behalf of the LCS, he asked the judge hearing a copyright infringement suit against an “independent” Star Trek fan-film, to not allow CBS Corp. and Paramount Pictures to claim ownership of the Klingon language.
Making it clear the LCS was not taking sides in the studios’ lawsuit against Axanar Productions and its principal Alec Peters, Randazza laid out what many would say is a clever “friend of the court” brief, where the Klingon language “gave Star Trek characters convincing dialogue, but it broke its chains and took on a life of its own — a life that the Copyright Act has no power to control.”
The brief has created a bit of a distraction when it comes to the copyright infringement case as lawyers for both the studios and for Axanar have taken sides over not just whether Randazza’s brief should be considered, but also if the Klingon language should indeed be one of many elements CBS and Paramount have detailed in their lawsuit.
In fact, the morning after CBS and Paramount attorney David Grossman opposed the brief’s inclusion, Randazza told a trade publication that Grossman should’ve just accepted his brief as fact.
“That would have been the intellectually honest thing to do, and would have been much simpler,” Randazza told Law360. “A single page brief that says, ‘Yeah, we admit that we don’t own Klingon.’ Instead, someone padded their time entries for the month, which is between them and their client.”
Targeting Gay Teenaged Pirates?
That retort from Randazza seemed quite out of character, especially based on what seemed to be a “fun” nature of his brief, detailing things like how Marc Okrand learned the language from a captured Klingon, and actually writing certain portions of the brief in Klingon.
But it appears the Randazza who spoke to Law360 is much more like the real Randazza that others have experienced, compared to the one who is representing LCS. In fact, last November, Ars Technica reporter Joe Mullin published a 3,000-word exposé on the Las Vegas attorney headlined “Bribery, gay porn and copyright trolls: The rise and fall of lawyer Marc Randazza.”
The story highlighted an arbitration action Randazza initiated against his former employer, Liberty Media, accusing them of a number of things, including shooting a porn film in his office. Randazza sought hundreds of thousands of dollars from Liberty, but actually lost the case. Not that the attorney walked away with nothing, but the arbiter instead found Randazza owed Liberty at least $600,000 — and according to Randazza’s bankruptcy filing in Nevada, up to $1 million — for a variety of claims, according to Ars Technica, including:
• Randazza “secretly negotiated” a $75,000 bribe from a defendant in a legal action;
• Randazza did unauthorized outside work while working for Liberty;
• And Randazza kept a $55,000 payment in a legal action he’s actually most famous for, that should’ve instead went to Liberty.
That $55,000 payment was part of what is known as the Righthaven cases, where a company founded by a Nevada lawyer formed partnership agreements with newspapers as a way to crack down and collect revenue from blogs and online news sites that repurposed those stories. Randazza became a darling of free press advocates when he defended many of those sites, helping to bring down Righthaven, which courts ultimately ruled had no standing to file the copyright suits in the first place.
Randazza did that work while working for Liberty, with the company’s blessing. But then Randazza took on other clients without Liberty’s consent, according to arbitration reports. He sometimes even took on clients who Liberty was in legal squabbles with. One of those clients was a Youtube-style porn site known as Xvideos, which Liberty was cracking down on to stop its content from being pirated there.
Liberty claimed Randazza accepted a $35,000 retainer fee from Xvideos to represent them as well as additional monthly payments, while telling Liberty they shouldn’t sue the site.
Instead, Randazza hatched a plan to go after individual people who downloaded Liberty content illegally through torrent sites, according to reports. Under this program, Randazza would locate an individual content pirate, and offer an “amnesty” of paying $1,000 to stop and not be sued by Liberty. “Dozens” of people paid the amnesty fee, a Liberty executive told Ars Technica, to the point where Randazza allegedly wanted to expand the program … and charge a higher amnesty fee.
The program backfired before that next phase could begin. Bloggers who had once sided with Randazza were suddenly against him, including some gay-themed blogs that said Randazza was extorting people who might be “outed” if they instead chose to fight the lawsuit.
When the popular blog Queerty lashed out at Liberty and its legal strategy, saying it could actually nudge closeted teenagers and others toward suicide, Randazza himself spoke up.
“Liberty Media produces straight content too,” Randazza said. “So any thieving little shit who gets caught can very easily lie to his parents that he was looking at straight porn.”
Except Queerty pointed out that’s not true — a lawsuit would have to state specifically what the offender had downloaded, which its sexual orientation audience would be obvious.
“The gay porn studio threatening to sue illegal file sharers doesn’t seem too concerned that its lawsuits against some 40,000 so-far-anonymous BitTorrent users might out closeted gay teens who live in violent homophobic households,” Queerty published in February 2011 (link may be NSFW).
‘Lawyers Gonna Lawyer’
Further details of the arbitration between Randazza and Liberty can be found on the Ars Technica site here.
1701News asked Randazza to comment, to which he simply replied, “Is that the only controversy I’m involved in that interests you?” When asked what other controversies 1701News might be interested in, Randazza didn’t respond.
The Language Creation Society, however, stands by Randazza. Sai, a member of LCS’s board of directors who visited a Facebook page devoted to the copyright infringement lawsuit CBS and Paramount have filed against “Star Trek: Axanar,” told posters there that “lawyers gonna lawyer.”
“It’s a mistake to attribute clients’ positions to lawyers,” Sai said, adding that lawyers often advocate for their clients’ interests, even if it disagrees with their personal opinions. “We chose Marc because he’s a top-notch First Amendment lawyer. I don’t think anyone can deny that. He took it pro bono, which is also a rare thing; the LCS is a small nonprofit with limited funds, certainly not enough to pay a good lawyer’s fees.
“Due diligence in picking a lawyer means making sure they can represent you well — not trying to dig up (disputed) dirt on their past or their other clients,” Sai said. “We are 100 percent satisfied with his legal work for us. Read the brief; it’s absolutely brilliant.”
Grossman, the attorney representing CBS and Paramount, disagrees. He cited a number of problems with the brief, both official and technical — from the brief being too long for what federal courts typically allow, to his position that the timing of the brief gives no time for Grossman to properly respond before a judge could rule on a defense motion to dismiss on May 9.
Erin Ranahan, who represents Axanar pro bono, chided Grossman in his response, claiming the attorney was trying to change the game when it came to the language. She has called for the judge to strike the Klingon language from among the dozens of copyrighted elements CBS and Paramount say Axanar infringed, if not the whole lawsuit itself.
In the meantime, Randazza’s old employer, Liberty Media, is challenging his Nevada court filing seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. In that filing, Randazza claimed assets of up to $10 million, and liabilities of up to $50 million. Randazza included in his liabilities a potential $10 million judgement against him in a lawsuit with a blogger, Crystal Cox of Washington; $1 million to Liberty; as well as another $1 million judgement against him in a lawsuit he’s embroiled in with Roca Labs of Largo, Florida.
A judge could rule on the Axanar defense’s motion to dismiss as early as Monday.
Need to catch up on the “Star Trek: Axanar” copyright infringement lawsuit? Visit our easy-reference guide to all of 1701News’ coverage and commentaries by clicking here.