The Sword and Laser discussion

193 views
Scifi / Fantasy News > Paramount Must Explain 'Star Trek' in Court or Lose Ownership

Comments Showing 1-44 of 44 (44 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Gary (new)

Gary
The Paramount lawsuit claims that this infringes upon “thousands of copyrights” and the Axanar team has asked the simple question: “Which ones?” Because Star Trek now exists over several different universes, time periods, and casts, it’s not so simple. The universe is so spread out, it is almost impossible to define what Star Trek actually is. To that end, the burden is on Paramount to explain what Star Trek is — in a legal sense.
Full article: https://www.inverse.com/article/11905...

It is an interesting question. Star Trek's incarnations are the broadest in SF/Fantasy--and I'd argue literary history. At this point, is there a plot/continuity that one could point to and say "That is Star Trek" at all?

The other question is should the owners of the copyright be enforcing it at all? There would certainly seem be a timing issue involved in this particular case what with the production of a new TV series and films, but I don't think anyone can seriously look at the last 20 years of Star Trek production from the owners of the copyright and say that it is the owners of that copyright who have been keeping the franchise alive. Given the nature of the Star Trek fandom, is shutting down something like Axanar going to do more harm than good?


message 2: by Rick (last edited Feb 24, 2016 01:55PM) (new)

Rick | 2866 comments I've not read the article but I don't think ST is all that spread out at all. Aside from the stupid 'temporal cold war' storyline in Enterprise it's a cohesive universe with one branching point. Up to the ST reboot it starts with TOS and the future progresses through TNG with DS9 and Voyager happening in roughly the same time at different places in the world. The movies all happen post original series and in a fairly linear fashion.

The Abrams films happen in an alternate timeline that's split off from ours by the events of the first film.

But none of this is really all that relevant - I'm assuming things like "Star Trek" , "The Federation", Klingon etc are all trademarks. The Axanar team are being jerks - you can't take someone's IP and use it without their permission. That's the POINT of patents/trademarks/copyright - people can create things, find audiences, their creations become popular and make money from the IP and get protection from others simply taking something once it's popular and using it.

Sorry, no sympathy for the Axanar people here.

"The other question is should the owners of the copyright be enforcing it at all?"

They legally have to or they do lose rights. And the question in the article is misleading. Is ST the universe or what happens in it? How about... both? YOU cannot have events set in a universe without the universe existing. Axanar can't exist without the greater Trek universe. Or rather, it can, but it can't then be a Star Trek movie. Strip references to things like Klingons and alter their appearance and you certainly could tell a fun space opera story. But it's not then a ST movie.

Your (or my) opinions on whether Paramount is doing right by ST isn't relevant. Try making a new Harry Potter movie for profit* and watch how fast the Rowling people land on your ass. "But I want more HP stories!!!" won't work as a defense. Same for ANY IP. Want to make professional things in someone else's world? Talk to them and get a license. They said No? Too bad.

*Fanfic is almost alway excepted from this since it's acknowledged to be for fun and not profit.


message 3: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments The article is bullshit. Axanar has an actor from Enterprise reprising his role. The main character is from the original series.They have a character from the first Abrams film get name dropped. Their whole plot is based upon the old FASA RPG. The case is a slam dunk for Paramount.


message 4: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments I read the article and have no idea WTF they're talking about.

Axanar is CLEARLY derivative of Star Trek. Not just the actors reprising exact characters from other Trek media but referencing the larger Trek universe as they play the roles. Plus they use actual Trek (and clearly trek-inspired) starships throughout, so on the whole "look and feel" aspect they are screwed. This is a slam-dunk for Paramount.

That said, "Prelude to Axanar" is easily the best Trek anything since Wrath of Khan. It's a shame Paramount is being dicks about this, but they do have to protect their copyright. The bad thing is, Paramount is run by crooks and thieves and has been for more than 40 years, so they're not exactly guiltless of this same issue. But the courts nearly always fall for the corporations and copyright/trademark/patent holders. Paramount is also crazy litigious, so it's not like we didn't see this coming.


message 5: by Gary (last edited Feb 24, 2016 02:41PM) (new)

Gary Rick wrote: ""The other question is should the owners of the copyright be enforcing it at all?"

They legally have to or they do lose rights."


I'm not a copyright/trademark/patent attorney, but I think you're thinking of trademark here. The owners of a copyright don't lose it if they don't defend it. A trademark, however, can be lost if it isn't defended. Not defending a copyright means one probably will lose things like the amount of damages that can be claimed as time goes on (arguably) but you have to expressly give up copyright, sell it, or die (+70 years) in order to lose it.

So, a trademark owner has to actively defend "Beam me up, Scotty" (which was apparently trademarked and abandoned in 2008 - http://www.trademarkencyclopedia.com/...) but unless they specifically give it up (or die) the copyright owner holds onto it regardless.

Which leaves the "Should they?" an open question.

It looks to me more like the issue with the Axanar project has three issues, in descending order of importance to the Paramount folks:

1. The timing of the project to the next Star Trek film.
2. The upcoming TV series.
3. An actual budget for Axanar.

I think they could care less if Axanar got made with half-assed cosplay level costumes, amateur actors, etc. $1.1 million in crowdfunding? That's something they should be getting a piece of....

But, again, I think the idea is that they think it'll cut into their revenue, and I'm not so sure that's the case given the nature of the fandom.


message 6: by Gary (new)

Gary This article lays out the specifics of the copyright violations better than that first one: http://www.thewrap.com/why-star-trek-...


message 7: by Rick (last edited Feb 24, 2016 03:07PM) (new)

Rick | 2866 comments Gary - and I assume many of the terms used in ST are trademarks. To the should they.. of course they should. Why should the Axanar people be able to blatantly use ST trademarks, settings, etc etc and make money from it? Again, this goes to a particular nerd outlook, the "but we want more and that evil creator/corp is in our way!!!" which is utterly irrelevant.

Forget the trendy, edgy 'corporations are evil' stuff... what if YOU had a hit book series and someone just decided to rip it off, publish it with the same names, settings, etc and did so with the full intent of making money? Just how forgiving would you be then?


message 8: by Gary (last edited Feb 24, 2016 04:38PM) (new)

Gary Rick wrote: "I assume many of the terms used in ST are trademarks.

That's possible, but if they are defending any trademarks I haven't read about it. It would appear to be purely a copyright issue. (Can anybody shed some light on this?)

In any case, the point is that it's not an obligatory lawsuit to defend their rights.

Rick wrote: "To the should they.. of course they should. Why should the Axanar people be able to blatantly use ST trademarks, settings, etc etc and make money from it? Again, this goes to a particular nerd outlook, the "but we want more and that evil creator/corp is in our way!!!" which is utterly irrelevant."

I don't think your characterization here has a lot to do with the situation.... But whether or not that's the case, I'd suggest that this is the issue: Unlike other media franchises, Star Trek exists in a very real sense because of its fanbase. Of course, all entertainment products require fans and supporters, but Star Trek represents what I'd suggest is the upper limit of that process. Even a franchise as successful and global as Star Wars cannot claim to have been kept alive by the fans themselves the way Star Trek was, and (I'd argue) has been.

The question "Should they?" is not about whether Paramount has the right to shut down derivative works. The question is, whether by doing so they are, in effect, throwing away millions of dollars worth of free product in support of their franchise. In this particular case $1.1 million of actual cash, the time/effort of volunteers, etc. The thinking on the Paramount side would appear to be that such a project is a net loss for them.

However, that's not the way things work these days. If this were, say, 1980 or thereabouts, I'd say that argument makes sense. If someone were to somehow get that kind of funding for a Star Trek project and put it up for sale somehow then that's all money that could go to/come from Paramount.

These days, a fanbase project for something with far fewer fans than Star Trek is viewed as support for the brand/property because, effectively, those projects act as a free advertising platform and marketing campaign for the brand.

The Star Trek fanbase has always been on the leading edge of that process. By enforcing their copyright in this case, on a project that has really very little connection to the upcoming film and (from what I've gleaned) the TV series, they are throwing away not just a free $1.1million contribution to their marketing, but doing so in a way that contradicts one of the core aspects of the franchise's support.

Rick wrote: "...what if YOU had a hit book series and someone just decided to rip it off, publish it with the same names, settings, etc and did so with the full intent of making money? Just how forgiving would you be then?"

I can assure you, I would be quite forgiving. In fact, anyone who would like to take something I've written, raise a over a million to produce it, shoot it, and release it free on the Internet can call me any time they like. Send me a private message here on GR and we can discuss how to avoid any legal entanglements.


message 9: by Papaphilly (last edited Feb 24, 2016 04:41PM) (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Not knowing any more than I have just read, it sounds like that the movie in question crossed a line with Paramount with the size of the budget. At that size, it could do damage to the franchise if the quality is lousy or even if it is very good because it opens the door to others with greater budgets making money.

To give a different framework to a similar situation. Richard hatch was shut down for trying to do a Battlestar Galactica product, which is funny because owner Glen Larson was famous for "acquiring" television knockoffs of movies.


message 10: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2866 comments " The question is, whether by doing so they are, in effect, throwing away millions of dollars worth of free product in support of their franchise."

However, that's quite clearly their decision. We can, of course, discuss it, but even if it's clear that's what they're doing, it's their right. It is NOT the fans' right to just take things and use them. The rest of your post is irrelevant to the legal issues. It just doesn't matter how good the fan support has been, etc. It might be a smart move to let this go ahead but at the end of the day it's NOT the fans

"I can assure you, I would be quite forgiving. In fact, anyone who would like to take something I've written, raise a over a million to produce it, shoot it, and release it free on the Internet"

Somehow I doubt that. Let's say you weren't forgiving and, against your wishes, people just took your IP anyway. That's what is happening here.

Also, it's my understanding that the Axanar producers fully intend to make money from this and if so the whole 'gee aren't they nice' vibe goes away.

Look, we have a legal system that allows copyright and other IP holders to control their IP. Fanbases don't get to ignore that just because they're rabid fans of something. People don't get to just ignore the law.


message 11: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments There is a lot of overlap between copyright and trademark, hence the confusion. Suffice it to say that it is in your best interest to defend against infringements of either because you run the risk of losing control of your IP.

After situations such as with the original Night of the Living Dead (where George Romero et al lost control of their copyright because some prints were released without the copyright symbol on them) the law was changed so you can no longer lose control of your copyright as long as it is still within the ownership period. However, because the law is enforced to various degrees of vagueness and rigidity depending on specific judges, you can potentially lose control over who can do what with your IP.

Basically it's a question of "give them an inch and they'll take a mile" if you don't dictate hard-and-fast rules as to what is or is not permissible. Paramount has always been very short-leashed when it comes to their properties, and with Trek in particular. They famously sued when Google bought YouTube for copyright infringement due to users uploading clips from Star Trek, even though Google has no control over the service before they purchased it. Paramount also tried to shut down Star Trek fan websites back in the day, which was a really short-sighted thing to do. But they were well within their rights to do so.


message 12: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments Gary wrote: "I can assure you, I would be quite forgiving. In fact, anyone who would like to take something I've written, raise a over a million to produce it, shoot it, and release it free on the Internet can call me any time they like. Send me a private message here on GR and we can discuss how to avoid any legal entanglements."

By stating this in public, you have effectively given permission for people to do whatever they want.

Arguing in court that here you have set specific criteria for derivative works -- 1) a million dollars, 2) free, 3) on the internet -- is going to be an uphill battle because the opposing side will argue you meant these colloquially. It is not a done deal that the creator's word in court is taken as the one true intent.

I used to be an editor at Lexis-Nexis and saw many cases like this. The law is applied differently from judge to judge and court to court, which is why there have been attempts to create one-size-fits-all laws ("three strikes" or "mandatory minimums", for example) to combat this. Patent trolls prefer to try cases in Texas because the court there defaults to whoever owns the patent without considering nebulous issues such as who was the developer of the patent or who originally created it.


message 13: by Rick (new)

Rick | 2866 comments But, trike, the key to me is that Gary gave permission. Permission implies control. Control implies that permission must be asked for and can be denied.

To be clear, I would like to see Axanar made and released... but they seem to be on shaky legal ground here.


message 14: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments Rick wrote: "But, trike, the key to me is that Gary gave permission. Permission implies control. Control implies that permission must be asked for and can be denied. "

Yeah, you'd think that, but that's not how it works.

Look at the recent ruling against Kesha. The contract trumped her accusations of abuse and rape. That doesn't make any sense but there it is. Or the Supreme Court's affirmation (and de facto extension) of Citizens United, ruling that corporations can spend as much money as they want in elections, basically giving them the same rights as people but without any of the responsibilities. You hear about that sort of thing and just kind of go, "Wha-?"


message 15: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 184 comments To be fair, while the pop star cases is sad and unfortunate if true, from a legal point of view you can see why courts might not think it an option to establish the precedent that anybody can get out of any contract without any repercussions purely by making an informal accusation of assault without needing to demonstrate to the court's satisfaction that the assault actually took place. The court can't just automatically accept an allegation as true and as a basis to nullify contracts (i.e. deprive people of a lot of money). Otherwise contracts would no longer be worth the paper they're written on. I suspect the ruling would have been different if she'd actually established in some way that the assault took place, although of course it's understandable why that might be difficult for her even if the allegation is true.


Anyway: IANAL, but it looks like the Axanar people have no leg to stand on. Yes, there's theoretically an interesting issue here with a derivative work that appears to exist in the same "universe" while having no identifiably copyright explicit ties to it. But that doesn't seem to actually be the case here: there are all sorts of concrete infringements, it looks like, and the Axanar guys are just forcing Paramount to list them all by name as a stalling tactic.

On the other hand, I also have to doubt whether it's actually good policy for Paramount. If I were them, I'd probably be trying to stick my name onto the Axanar project somehow instead - 'support' the project in a way that doesn't cost much or involve any actual work, stick a "Paramount Fan Partnership Project" or something logo on it to distinguish it from their main works, and benefit from the publicity. Unless they think that Axanar is going to humiliate them by how succesful it is, and by 'beating' their own projects? In which case, just hire the Axanar guys!



Btw, that's a weird site. I clicked over to their 'why Bryan Fuller is the wrong person' article. From it I learned that:
a) Deep Space Nine was a "bottom of the barrel" series, despite Odo being loveable
b) Fuller, who worked on DS9, Voyager, Heroes, and Hannibal, cannot do action scenes
c) there's apparently something wrong with saying that Star Trek lit up your imagination as a child. "What would Spock say?" they ask
d) Fuller, who worked on DS9/Voyager, Heroes, Dead Like Me, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, a 'Munsters' reboot and Hannibal, and is now working on the 'American Gods' adaptation... suffers from his "too narrow" ideas
e) Pushing Daisies was all about a "cute but deadly" piemaker who kills people with a single touch
f) Fuller, who worked on DS9, Hannibal, Voyager, Hannibal, Heroes, Hannibal, Dead Like Me, Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, Hannibal, Wonderfalls, Hannibal, a TV adaptation of Carrie, Hannibal, a 'Munsters' reboot, Hannibal, American Gods, Hannibal, Hannibal, Hannibal, and Hannibal, is "too touchy-feely", and all his works are "planted firmly in the same school of cutesy intrigue." Its true that many of his works are noticeably 'cutesy', Hannibal and lack brutality, but I Hannibal seem to remHannibalember at least one Hannibal exception to that if only I could Hannibal of its name...

[don't get me wrong, Hannibal had its problems. But cutesiness and failing to be sufficiently different from Pushing Daisies were not among them...]

Weird site...


message 16: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Rick wrote: "But, trike, the key to me is that Gary gave permission. Permission implies control. Control implies that permission must be asked for and can be denied.

To be clear, I would like to see Axanar ma..."


Not necessarily, permission means allowance, but it can be revoked at a later time. Star Trek is registered and an owned property. I think to ask to Paramount to define the Star Trek universe sounds to me like the Axanar people are looking for a loophole to crawl through. This is not a satire or even a nod, it is someone placing a stake and saying this is mine too. Axanar could have used everything similar with different names and they would have been fine, they attached themselves to Star Trek, whether through homage or as a money making venture, I have no idea. Star Trek is a very valuable franchise to Paramount and they must protect it.

Think about it this way, I take a car chassis and build a car, the chassis is a Ford, but nothing else is a Ford. I build everything else from scratch and then decide to call the car a Ford. I promote it as a Ford and take it to shows, not to make money, but to show my creation only. Ford finds out, you can rest assured they will not be happy.


message 17: by Rick (last edited Feb 25, 2016 03:55PM) (new)

Rick | 2866 comments Trike wrote: "Rick wrote: "But, trike, the key to me is that Gary gave permission. Permission implies control. Control implies that permission must be asked for and can be denied. "

Yeah, you'd think that, but ..."


mmm the Kesha issue is different. It's not an IP issue but a contract law one.

My point is simply that the owner of IP can do whatever they want with it - they can put it in the public domain, restrict it from any use aside from fair use permitted by law, etc. They can give permission only for left-handed people to make movies from if they want.

Paramount owns the movie rights to ST. They are perfectly within their rights to deny anyone permission to use their IP rights (fair use aside, which this isn't). Whether you, I or anyone else wants to see this movie, the Axanar folks don't have any legal right to simply use the IP that is legally Paramount's.

"Not necessarily, permission means allowance, but it can be revoked at a later time. "

Not a lawyer but I'd think that to revoke permission one would have to follow the terms of the agreement that granted permission in the first place. I've no idea what would happen in the case of blanket permission being granted to anyone in an open forum like this, but that would be an interesting case.

Of course, the other issue is whether a person working for a corporation has the power to grant permission. It's not like the office manager or a janitor at Paramount can give someone permissions to use their IP. So if the Axanar people are going to say "hey, we were told by people at Paramount that we were OK..." they're going to have to a) specify the person, b) have that person be someone who has the legal right to grant such permission and c) prove that there was such an oral contract at all.


message 18: by Gary (last edited Feb 25, 2016 03:55PM) (new)

Gary Wastrel wrote: "But that doesn't seem to actually be the case here: there are all sorts of concrete infringements, it looks like, and the Axanar guys are just forcing Paramount to list them all by name as a stalling tactic."

I'd have to agree. Paramount/CBS certainly has several grounds for a copyright claim given the content of the Axanar project. That said, if the language that I've read reported is accurate (that CBS is saying there are "thousands" of violations, and want $150k each) then that does rather beg the "Which ones?" question. After all, at the very least the Axanar guys would need to know if they're being sued for $150 million, $300 million, $600 million. If for no other reason than to start up a crowdfunding campaign to pay it off....

I've not read a lot of copyright filings, but the few I have looked at were quite specific. Line by line comparisons aren't unusual. From a legal/strategic standpoint, though, I'm sure you're right: it's just a stalling tactic from the Axanar side. Maybe it'll give them some time to negotiate a deal? Probably not, but since they don't have much of a case otherwise, it can't hurt.

Wastrel wrote: "Unless they think that Axanar is going to humiliate them by how succesful it is, and by 'beating' their own projects? In which case, just hire the Axanar guys!

I did read one article that said the Axanar short was better than anything Abrams put out, which is interesting in that context. Still, it's hard to imagine the Axanar guys really doing something that damaged Paramount/CBS financially. It's not outside the realm of possibility, of course, but it's certainly less chancy than pumping tens of millions into a movie, and they do that pretty frequently.

Still, the original question raised by the first article is intriguing. How much does the Star Trek copyright cover? The Axanar project clearly crosses some lines, but I wonder what would happen if a project were set in an alternate Star Trek universe, used none of the characters from the series/movies, and had entirely new logos, uniforms, starships, etc. Something that was Star Trek in a way that may compare to the TV series Grimm to the Grimm Bros. tales or, maybe better, any number of films adapted from books that seem to have only a passing relationship to the original novel....


message 19: by Papaphilly (last edited Feb 26, 2016 07:48AM) (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Gary wrote: "Still, the original question raised by the first article is intriguing. How much does the Star Trek copyright cover? The Axanar project clearly crosses some lines, but I wonder what would happen if a project were set in an alternate Star Trek universe, used none of the characters from the series/movies, and had entirely new logos, uniforms, starships, etc. Something that was Star Trek in a way that may compare to the TV series Grimm to the Grimm Bros. tales or, maybe better, any number of films adapted from books that seem to have only a passing relationship to the original novel......."

That part is easy, if you change everything, then it is not Star Trek. They key here is going to be if it infringes upon the Star Trek universe. Star Wars, Battle Star Galatica, Babylon 5, Firefly, Stargate SG 1, and Farscape all were influenced by Star Trek. Yet, they are different enough to not intrude. Axanar could have avoided this if they would have not included Star Trek characters and insisted they were part of this universe. I think it is not the fact it is fan based, but the size of the budget that crossed the line. I have not seen Axanar (either of them) it could be brilliant or it could be total trash. Either way Paramount owns the Star Trek universe. I believe the Klingon language is copyrighted.


message 20: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 184 comments They claim the Klingon language is copyright. Whether languages are actually copyrightable, however, is a vexed question. US appeal courts have ruled that certain elements of programming languages are copyrightable, but the Supreme Court didn't weigh in on that. The Lojban/Loglan schism was precautionary - the only actual trial was over trademarks, and the Lojbanists actually won that one. With real languages, courts have ruled that you can't copyright the meanings of words - which are facts - and since people do speak Klingon, presumably the facts about what they mean by it are also facts.
I suspect that, particularly in light of Klingon's popular use, which the claimed copyright holders have not tried to prevent, courts would probably decide that Klingon isn't actually copyrighted after all. However, the official documents about Klingon - dictionaries, grammars - are copyright.

But again, I Am Not A Lawyer


message 21: by Gary (new)

Gary Hm. That stuff about the copyright of the Klingon language is very interesting. I hadn't thought about it at all, let alone how it might relate to something like a computer language.


message 22: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Wastrel wrote: "They claim the Klingon language is copyright. Whether languages are actually copyrightable, however, is a vexed question. US appeal courts have ruled that certain elements of programming languages ..."

Klingon is under copyright. Klingon came out of Start Trek as a pseudo language to give the movie a realistic feel. It was developed fuller for the Star Trek universe. In many ways, it is like program language in that you write it and you can use it, but you can't make money unless you pay the fee, whether that is by using in a book or a program. If for some reason Klingon catches on to the larger population and actually develops into a full blown language like English, paramount would lose its rights. I am not so sure that Paramount would defend against groups of fans speaking it at conventions and other sorts of fan based activities. It actually pays Paramount to help it flourish to garner interest in the franchise.

However, if I decide to teach Klingon through a language program like Rosetta Stone, then it probably at least right now is defendable for franchising rights based on copyright protections.


message 23: by George (new)

George (georgefromny) | 70 comments A side note...

The Citizens United decision concerned political speech within a certain proximity to an election date; it had nothing to do with campaign spending totals or new notions of corporate personhood.

It was literally a case of "We think this candidate sucks and we made a little movie about why, but a recent law says we can't show it within X days of the election so we're going to court to fight that law."


message 24: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments No, Citizens United was an attack on campaign finance reform gussied up to be about free speech.


message 25: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Sean wrote: "No, Citizens United was an attack on campaign finance reform gussied up to be about free speech."

No, it was a first amendment issue and the Supreme Court ruled that it was a first amendment issue.


message 26: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 184 comments Papaphilly wrote: "Wastrel wrote: "They claim the Klingon language is copyright. Whether languages are actually copyrightable, however, is a vexed question. US appeal courts have ruled that certain elements of progra..."

As I say, the copyrightability of languages, including constructed languages, is a vexed question. Courts have hinted in both directions but to the best of my knowledge have not ruled decisively. The problem is what exactly is held to be copyrighted. It's hard to believe that Paramount can copyright words alone (rather than a particular use of words) - McDonalds might be able to copyright "I'm lovin' it", but they can't just copyright "it". Nor does the argument that Okrand actually created the Klingon words hold up, because he didn't. With seven and a half thousand languages in the world, and that's just counting the existing and recorded ones, all those words have been used long before Okrand got to them - if I make a conlang with the word "water" in it (meaning 'albatross'), I don't get to claim copyright over all uses of the word "water". It's only the correlation of word to meaning that Okrand actually invented. But describing the meaning of a word is a fact, which can't be copyrighted. If I say "bav", that's not copyrighted Klingon - because yes, that means "to orbit" in Klingon, but its also the rafsi of futurity in Lojban, and it's the word for a bow in Crimean Tatar, and doubtless it's hundreds of other things too. And if I write "bav", and give a subtitle in English, the subtitle isn't copyright either, because that's in English. And even if I write "bav*" and have a footnote saying "that means 'to orbit' in Klingon", that's not copyright either because that's a true fact. At the very least, it has the status of saying "Gandalf* *he's a wizard in The Lord of the Rings"; and since Klingon is actually spoken by a community (albeit, unlike Esperanto, not yet natively), you could well argue that it has a superior status to that, as a fact about what the real people speaking Klingon mean when they say that.
Of course, what really determines whether "bav" is Klingon or Tatar or Lojban or whatever is its place in the sentence, determined by the grammar of Klingon. But the grammar of Klingon is not copyrightable either, because grammar is not copyrightable: it's not a product, it's a system of rules, a method. And you cannot copyright a method, a process, a system, a procedure, a principle or an idea.

So what is copyrighted, then?
In fact we can be more specific in the question, because the US Code specifies what you can copyright: a literary, dramatic, musical, choreographic, pictorial, graphic, sculptural, audiovisual, or architectural work, or a sound recording. A language doesn't seem to fit anywhere into that!

You can copyright the 'grammar' in the sense of copyrighting the book describing the grammar, but you can't copyright the ideas the book contains. You can copyright the dictionary. You can copyright specific expressions appearing in your book; you can copyright sound and film recordings of people speaking Klingon. You can, in other words, copyright specific language materials. But I don't see how, conceptually, you can copyright a language per se, even a created language. As I say, I don't think it's been settled by the courts, and I Am Not A Lawyer, but given the principles on which copyright operates, I can't see how a claim to have copyrighted Klingon can be valid.

As an analogy: you can't copyright recipes. You can copyright a description of a recipe, but you can't stop people from following the recipe, or even from selling videos showing them following the recipe. Likewise, Okrand can copyright descriptions of how Klingons speak, but he can't stop people from speaking the way Klingons speak.


message 27: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 184 comments George wrote: "A side note...

The Citizens United decision concerned political speech within a certain proximity to an election date; it had nothing to do with campaign spending totals or new notions of corporat..."


John Paul Stevens disagreed!


message 28: by Tobias (new)

Tobias Langhoff (tobiasvl) | 136 comments Surely McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" is a trademark, not copyrighted?


message 29: by Trike (last edited Feb 26, 2016 02:45PM) (new)

Trike | 8768 comments Rick wrote: "Trike wrote: "Rick wrote: "But, trike, the key to me is that Gary gave permission. Permission implies control. Control implies that permission must be asked for and can be denied. "

Yeah, you'd th...

mmm the Kesha issue is different. It's not an IP issue but a contract law one. "


I wasn't trying to draw parallels to the Paramount case, just that the law is interpreted unevenly and has unexpected results. After reading and editing thousands of cases, I almost feel like there's no such thing as an apples-to-apples situation. It's apples to oranges to bananas to kiwi to tomatoes to....

There was another case -- I want to say it was in Indiana and involved university teachers -- where a single woman decided she wanted to have a baby and she wanted one of her colleagues to be the father. He resisted for months until she got lawyers involved who drew up a contract stipulating that he would be a sperm donor and nothing more, having no responsibilities for the child whatsoever. He showed it to lawyers who advised him it was solid. So he donated the sperm in the spirit of helping out a friend.

You can see where this is going.

She changed her mind and sued him for child support. The court sided with her because the responsibilities of fatherhood trump any contracts. This exact same type of lawsuit -- sperm donors being sued for child support -- has shown up again and again over the years, in Kansas, Pennsylvania, even the UK. The UK case ruled against the sperm donor, the PA case ruled FOR the sperm donor and the Kansas one was started by the religious conservatives in the state government despite both the sperm donor and the lesbian couple who are the child's parents insisting that the lawsuit be thrown out. Kansas is literally suing a sperm donor over the wishes of all the people involved.

The law is goofy and its application is down to the whims of the judge sitting the case.


message 30: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments If anyone hasn't seen Prelude to Axanar, I highly recommend it. As I said up top, it's the best Trek-related anything since Wrath of Khan. It's also one of the best fan films of any kind ever made.

Every time I watch it -- which I just did again -- I get to the end of the 20 minutes and think in dismay, "That's IT?!" It flies by, because the writing, acting, directing, editing and special effects are all top-shelf stuff. It's beautifully paced.

http://youtu.be/1W1_8IV8uhA


message 31: by Rick (last edited Feb 26, 2016 05:12PM) (new)

Rick | 2866 comments Folks, we're bringing all kinds of legal issues that really have very little to do with the topic. Sure, the law can be goofy but Kesha, Citizen's United, etc have nothing to do with this. Sure, some judge could do something really wacky, but this issue isn't complex.

The number of infractions that Paramount is asserting are simply for damages. It doesn't really have much to do with the core issue which is that Paramount owns the movie rights to all things Star Trek. They don't have to prove each instance or lose those rights. They MAY have to detail each instance of infringement to get damages, but they're not about to lose the legal rights to the franchise.

Also, yes, Prelude is excellent. I would really like to see Paramount and the Axanar folks come to some agreement that lets the full film be made and released. But that desire doesn't mean that they can just take someone's legal IP and use it however they want.


message 32: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Wastrel wrote: "Papaphilly wrote: "Wastrel wrote: "They claim the Klingon language is copyright. Whether languages are actually copyrightable, however, is a vexed question. US appeal courts have ruled that certain..."

I agree with pretty much everything you just wrote. However, Klingon started out as written work and that is copyrighted. It is not an official language, but an artificial construct for a entertainment franchise. That is copyrighted. if you and I are speaking Klingon the street, there is nothing that can be done. However, if you and I use the language in a movie, that probably fall under copyright. i agree that the courts have no definitely ruled. Until then it is copyrighted material. Now if some country decides to make it an official language, then it all copyrights go out the window. I have the feeling that it falls into one of those areas that do not quite fit neatly. My prediction, if it remains an obscure fan followed language, it remain s copyrighted until the copyright expires.


message 33: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 184 comments So far as I'm aware, no countries keep registers of "official languages", in the sense of languages that are "real".

You keep asserting that it is copyrighted, and maybe it is, but could you at least suggest a reason? I've given reasons why I think it probably isn't. Could you at least answer the question of what concrete thing is copyright?

Klingon has never been a written work, because it's a language. The written works are descriptions of the language, in the same way that a description of a marriage ritual is a description (whether that's a marriage ritual from the south sea islands or from a fictional civilisation orbiting aldebaran) - and conducting such a ritual would not, as I understand it, be prevented by copyright (though the concrete use of specific phrases first formulated by the author of the written work could be).

So if I make a series of sounds in front of you, a sequence that Okrand has never said or written down, and that could well form a valid sentence in multiple natural languages as well as artificial ones, and we video this and sell it as a movie, on what grounds exactly could Okrand/Paramount/CBS/whoever sue us? What specific, concrete literary or audiovisual work would we have made an unauthorised copy of? How can it be an unauthorised copy when the sequence of sounds I make has never before been made by anybody else? Surely a copy must... well, copy something?


message 34: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Rick wrote: "Folks, we're bringing all kinds of legal issues that really have very little to do with the topic. Sure, the law can be goofy but Kesha, Citizen's United, etc have nothing to do with this. Sure, so..."

Rick,

i just watched the prelude and all I can say is it is terrible, just terrible.

just kidding, it was great. You are right it is certainly the best since at least First Contact and maybe even The Wrath of Kahn. i was truly shocked how good. I bet Paramount works out a deal for this in the end.


message 35: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Wastrel wrote: "So far as I'm aware, no countries keep registers of "official languages", in the sense of languages that are "real".

You keep asserting that it is copyrighted, and maybe it is, but could you at l..."


Wastrel.

I am sorry. I did not mean to drive you nuts. I value your opinion because you are always well thought out.

The most famous case I can remember from my readings over the years is the constructed language of Loglan. If memory serves me well, it was constructed to teach people that learn the language to think in a different way. The U.S. Patent Office upheld restricted use of the constructed language, Evidently, the creator (Cooke?) never thought it was complete and used it for experimentation purposes for a theory of his about learning patterns. It seems his students felt that the language should be freely available and created a very similar language and made that available, but could not call it the same language.

Please bear with me, I might have some of this wrong, but I have the generalities right.

You also have to keep in mind that the Klingon language was first developed only for the purpose of being used in Star Trek. It has a small vocabulary and as far as i know is only used in relation to the Star Trek universe. oddly enough, there is a website that discusses this stuff. I stumbled upon it today while looking up whether the language was still copyrighted.

http://www.klingon.org

I am the first to admit, I find this a bit foolish arguing about language. I also find it a bit nuts that fans become so engrossed in a show that it consumes them. At the same time there are more than one famous scientist that have made real contributions both in science and technology that started with Star Trek. So who knows.

http://www.sfwa.org/members/elgin/Lan...

The preceding is a link that gives a bit of information of Paramount and the development of Klingon. It is not comprehensive, but is a bit interesting.


message 36: by Rick (last edited Feb 26, 2016 07:06PM) (new)

Rick | 2866 comments So if I make a series of sounds in front of you, a sequence that Okrand has never said or written down, and that could well form a valid sentence in multiple natural languages as well as artificial ones, and we video this and sell it as a movie, on what grounds exactly could Okrand/Paramount/CBS/whoever sue us?

Is that what they're suing on? Or is it that you're calling the language Klingon, the people who speak it Klingons and the human alliance that opposes them The Federation?

Come on, the language isn't central to this.


message 37: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Rick wrote: ""
So if I make a series of sounds in front of you, a sequence that Okrand has never said or written down, and that could well form a valid sentence in multiple natural languages as well as artifici..."


No Klingon is not central to the subject. I only brought it up to make the point that Paramount takes this very seriously. So seriously that when it became apparent that fans were taken with the idea of the Klingon language, Paramount hired a linguistic professor to write the language and then copyrighted it. I only mentioned it to show how seriously Paramount takes protecting the franchise.


message 38: by George (new)

George (georgefromny) | 70 comments We need to combine all of this into the future case of Klingons United vs the Federation Election Commission...


message 39: by Sean (new)

Sean O'Hara (seanohara) | 2365 comments Papaphilly wrote: "No, it was a first amendment issue and the Supreme Court ruled that it was a first amendment issue. ."

Nobody ever said SCOTUS was infallible.

Notice that non-profits are prohibited from advocacy for or against candidates, but you don't have anyone up in arms about that. It's only when the government tells rich guys they can't donate unlimited sums to PACs that it suddenly becomes an unconscionable restriction on free speech. One law for Planned Parenthood,another for the Koch brothers.


message 40: by Wastrel (new)

Wastrel | 184 comments Papaphilly wrote: "Wastrel wrote: "So far as I'm aware, no countries keep registers of "official languages", in the sense of languages that are "real".

You keep asserting that it is copyrighted, and maybe it is, bu..."


Regarding Loglan: the court case wasn't about the copyright of the language, it was about the trademark of the word "Loglan" - whether the schismatics could call their version of the language "Loglan" or not. The court, as I understand it, ruled that they could, because the creator (James Cooke Brown) used the word "loglan" as a generic term for his project - creating a logical language - rather than specifically for the specific language he created. However, the case became moot, because in the meantime the schismatics had both rewritten the vocabulary as a precaution (so copyright issues couldn't even be raised) and decided to use a new name that fit the new phonotactics. Thus Lojban was born.
The issue then became even deader because everybody deserted Loglan, which became just one guy, while Lojban became a huge new movement. And then the guy died. So the whole case didn't really test the extent of the law in this area.

---

Regarding Klingon, the purpose of its creation I don't think it relevent to whether it is copyrightable.
It's not just used for Star Trek things, by the way. There are Klingon translations of Shakespeare, Lao Tse, and the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Klingon theatrical adaptation from Dickens, a Klingon opera, Klingon death metal, and a large number of fragments used in unrelated TV shows and song lyrics. It has been taught to a child as their first language, but the child didn't like it so the attempt was abandoned.


message 41: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Wastrel wrote: "Papaphilly wrote: "Wastrel wrote: "So far as I'm aware, no countries keep registers of "official languages", in the sense of languages that are "real".

You keep asserting that it is copyrighted, ..."


If you look at the Klingon translations, they have the Star Trek Brand logo on the books. As for the Death Metal, I have no idea that existed. It probably falls into us speaking it and that is fine. Not knowing anything about it, I assume if there are lyrics within the liner notes, they are written in English and not the Klingon fonts and if they are, either Paramount does not know or they are paid a use fee.


message 42: by Papaphilly (new)

Papaphilly | 171 comments Sean wrote: "Papaphilly wrote: "No, it was a first amendment issue and the Supreme Court ruled that it was a first amendment issue. ."

Nobody ever said SCOTUS was infallible.

Notice that non-profits are prohi..."


You probably should read up on Citizens United and the entire history of how it developed.


message 43: by Trike (new)

Trike | 8768 comments Rick wrote: "So if I make a series of sounds in front of you, a sequence that Okrand has never said or written down, and that could well form a valid sentence in multiple natural languages as well as artificial ones, and we video this and sell it as a movie, on what grounds exactly could Okrand/Paramount/CBS/whoever sue us?

Is that what they're suing on? Or is it that you're calling the language Klingon, the people who speak it Klingons and the human alliance that opposes them The Federation?

Come on, the language isn't central to this."


You don't know that. You can't know that. If the lawyers spin it correctly, it could change everything.

When Marvel sued City of Heroes because within the MMO you could make pretty convincing duplicates of Marvel characters, they lost because all of the examples Marvel showed were made by Marvel, not by anyone associated with City of Heroes.

Which doesn't really make any sense, because many of the powers and costumes -- specifically those of Wolverine -- we're clearly inspired by Marvel's characters. It didn't matter WHO made a Wolv3r1n3, he still had those exact abilities: fast healing, three claws that come out of his forearms, and the signature costume.

I mean, I personally was pleased Marvel lost the lawsuit because I loved playing that game, but I never in a million years would have bet that Marvel would lose the suit because they merely demonstrated what they were talking about. Any reasonable person could see the game based the design on Marvel's IP.

But not the judge.

So maybe the language thing could be what this whole case hinges on. There's no telling, because the law is wackadoodle.

There is a great line in A Few Good Men where Kaffee says, "This is a sales pitch. It's not going to be won by the law, it's going to be won by the lawyers." Cynical, maybe, but absolutely true.


message 44: by George (new)

George (georgefromny) | 70 comments Sean,

What Para said. Or, to save some time, just Google "ACLU Citizens United" and read their statement of support for the SCOTUS decision. Or their amicus brief on the case.

Since you name-dropped them, Planned Parenthood was one of the organizations whose political speech was restricted by the BCRA just as the Citizens United group was. They benefitted from the Court's ruling just as CU did.

Chuck and Dave say hello, btw.


back to top