Last May, we reported that Paramount Studios was dropping their copyright infringement lawsuit against a company by the name of Axanar who was making a very professional “fan film” based on the Star Trek franchise.
We based our post on the statement by J.J. Abrahms, who is the executive producer and “guardian” of the franchise.
In advance of the July release of Star Trek Beyond, it seems Paramount is going to try to get itself beyond a serious problem it’s having with the passionate fanbase of Trekkies, and clear up a PR black eye in the process. Tonight during a Trek fan event held on the Paramount lot, Star Trek Beyond executive producer JJ Abrams announced that the studio will be dropping a contentious lawsuit against a Star Trek fan film production. “This wasn’t an appropriate way to deal with the fans,” Abrams put it bluntly, signaling a major about face and many mended fences.
We got involved with this because of a legal brief filed by Attorney Marc Randazza on Paramount’s claim that they owned the language of Klingon. Acting on behalf of the Language Creation Society, Randazza wrote a brief that was so piercing, pointed, and hysterical that it made the rounds through people who don’t care about the Star Trek universe.
With the announcement by Abrams that the suit would be halted, we thought we were done with this.
Alas, we are not.
Paramount never truly dropped the suit which makes one wonder whether Abrams’ statement was more of a ploy to stop people from boycotting the film Star Trek Beyond. Whether the statement was honest, an attempt to stop the boycott of the film or whether Abrams’ views were overridden by the higher up and lawyers at Paramount, we may never know.
Axanar filed a motion to have the suit against it dismissed. Paramount responded to that motion, leaving that part in the hands of a judge.
Randazza, for his part, basically waved a flag saying “remember that amicus brief we filed that the court said didn’t need to be considered back in May of 2016? Well, it seems that this is a good time to refile that brief.”
On December 29, Randazza filed a motion seeking to have the LCS’s amicus brief be considered by the court.
Paramount responded to that brief and wants to have the court not look at the brief at all. They base their position on several technical issues and legal rules, but while the technicalities and rules sometimes seem frivolous and or an impediment to getting justice, they are there and should be dealt with.
With the Paramount shot fired across his bow, Randazza responded in a way that once again is satirical, pointed, brilliant and hysterical.
Randazza uses a Klingon font in the brief that our blogging software can’t reproduce, but here are some of the highlights from the brief:
With the benefit of eight months of time to ponder the arguments, Plaintiffs’ counsel instead takes their previously-filed Opposition, adds in a bit of emotional tirade, and wrongly claims prejudice. Plaintiffs are [taHqeq]!
Footnote: English translation: “One who is not fully forthright.” Latin transliteration: “taHqeq.”
Hawksbill is irrelevant, but even if relevant, Plaintiffs wear the uniform of a [petaQ] by invoking it.
Footnote: Although there is no direct translation, a [petaQ] is useless. Latin transliteration: “petaQ.”
Amicus is prepared to have this Court address the question of copyrightability of a language: [Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam.]
Footnote: English translation: “Today is a good day to die.” Latin transliteration: “Heghlu’meH QaQ jajvam.”
At that time, as now, Axanar did not fear Amicus participation, but Plaintiffs trembled at the thought. [nuchpu’ chaH]!
Footnote: English translation: “They [are] cowards.” Latin transliteration: “nuchpu’ chaH.”
With the benefit of 8 months in which to prepare for these arguments, Plaintiffs cannot credibly claim prejudice. [nuchpu’ chaH chim batlhqoqchaj.]
Footnote: English translation: “They are definitely cowards and their so called honor is empty.” Latin transliteration: “nuchpu’ chaH chim batlhqoqchaj.”
What Randazza is illustrating through the brief is the same thing he brought up in the original amicus brief:
You can copyright a movie and copyright the dialogue using a specific combination of words, but you cannot copyright an entire language.
Randazza made this point in the original brief by saying a company could copyright a scene from the movie “My Fair Lady,” but the could not copyright the language used in that scene.
(Another way of looking at it may be that one can copyright the way chords and notes are put together to make a song, but you cannot copyright music, all chords and all musical notes.)
He reiterates that point in this brief by saying:
Although Plaintiffs take issue with the reference to a Klingon wedding, there is a stark difference between simply using dialogue from My Fair Lady and using Klingon generally. If there were a Klingon wedding ceremony portrayed in Star Trek, the text of the ceremony would be copyrightable, just as “Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder today. Mawage, that bwessed awangement, the dweam wifin a dweam” from The Princess Bride (1987) is. The article is otherwise admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 807.
How Randazza came up with a link between a fictional war like society and “The Princess Bride” is beyond our comprehension. Yet once out in the open, his point is clear and spot on.
It is important to remember that Randazza is representing the Language Creation Society in this case to say that a language is not copyrightable. That is the only concern of the Language Creation Society. They take no position on whether the Axanar Star Trek fan film is subject to copyright or any other element within the film is subject to copyright. Their only concern is the language.
On January 3, 2017, US District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner issued an opinion denying the motion to dismiss the lawsuit against Axanar.
As far as the Klingon language itself and the Language Creation Society interests are concerned:
The evidence also includes settings from the Star Trek Copyrighted Works such as planets Axanar, Qo’noS, and Vulcan (including a shot of Vulcan from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock); military spaceships including Klingon battlecruisers, Vulcan ships with an engine ring, and Federation spaceships with their iconic saucer-shaped hull (e.g., the U.S.S. Enterprise), space travel elements such as spacedocks, and Vulcan buildings – cathedrals with sword-blade-shaped domes. The evidence further describes plot points, sequence of events, and dialogs from the Star Trek Copyrighted Works such as the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and conflicts between the two in the Four Years War at the Battle of Axanar (which is also described in a Paramount-licensed game including a supplement titled Four Years War), the Vulcan council, the teachings of Vulcan philosopher Surak, the use of the Federation logo, stardate, transporters and warp drive, weapons such as phasers and photon torpedoes, and the Klingon language. Finally, the evidence describes mood and theme of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works as science fiction action adventure, specifically a military space drama. All these elements appear in the Axanar Works. Although each of these elements may not be individually original and copyright protectable, they are “numerous enough and their selection and arrangement original enough that their combination constitutes an original work of authorship,” especially when combined with the costumes and fictional characters and species, examples of which are described above. (citations omitted; emphasis ours)
In short, that means that the judge said that you may have items and elements – such as the Klingon language – that are not copyright protected but when combined in a specific manner, result in a work that is copyrightable.
That’s the exact position of Randazza and the Language Creation Society, so there may be hope that the judge will decide that a language is not subject to copyright.
As one final note, it appears that the judge was getting into the “Star Trek” theme as his opinion says:
However, going where no man has gone before in producing Star Trek fan films, Defendants sought to make “a professional production” “with a fully professional crew, many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself”…..
Thus, the copyright infringement claim can live long and prosper if the Axanar Works are substantially similar to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works.
We will continue to follow this case as it goes along.