Copyright Does Not Protect the Klingon Language, Court Hears

Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios can't claim copyright over the Klingon language, Vulcan's pointy ears, or Phaser weapons, a court heard this week. This defense comes from the makers of crowdfunded Star Trek spin-off 'Prelude to Axanar', who were sued over their use of various well-known Star Trek elements.

klingonEarlier this year Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios filed a lawsuit against the makers of the Star Trek inspired fan film, accusing them of copyright infringement.

The dispute centers around the well-received short film Star Trek: Prelude to Axanar and the planned follow-up feature film Anaxar.

The project is an idea from Alec Peters who started working on it half a decade ago. The short film turned in to a massive hit and quickly raised more than $100,000 through crowdfunding, and the follow-up feature raised another $638,000 on Kickstarter alone.

That’s a serious budget for a fan-art project and the success prompted the attention of both Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios, who filed their complaint at a California federal court last December.

Among other things, the Star Trek rightsholder claimed ownership over various Star Trek related settings, characters, species, clothing, colors, shapes, words, short phrases and even the Klingon language.

This week, Axanar productions and Alec Peters responded to the allegations put forward in the complaint (pdf). According to the makers of the fan film, several of the allegedly “infringing elements” are not protected by copyright to begin with.

In their reply the filmmakers argue that words and short phrases such as names, titles and slogans can’t be protected. This includes the popular phrase “beam me up” as well as several Star Trek related names.

“…the names Garth of Izar, Soval, Richard Robau, and John Gill are not protectable, and neither are the words Andorians, Tellarites, Romulans, Axanar, Archanis IV, Q’onoS, Nausicaa, Rigel, Andoria, Tellar Prime, Vulcans, Klingons, Terra, Starship Enterprise, Starfleet, Federation, Starships, Stardate, and Federation or the short phrase ‘beaming up’,” they write.

In addition, Axanar productions points out that Paramount and CBS can’t claim ownership of the Klingon language, which is nothing more than an idea according to the defendants.

“The Klingon language itself is an idea or a system, and is not copyrightable,” they write.

“The mere allegation that Defendants used the Klingon language, without any allegation that Defendants copied Plaintiffs’ particular expression of that language, is therefore insufficient to state a claim for copyright infringement as to any protected element.”

Vulcan comparison


The defendants continue by stressing that the use of the Vulcan appearance and the Heat-Ray Phaser weapons are not unique to Star Trek. They are common appearances in nature and / or have been used in fictional works before.

“Vulcan appearance: a species with ‘pointy ears’ is not original to Star Trek, and has appeared in many fictional fantasy works depicting imaginary humanoid species predating Star Trek, including, but not limited to, vampires, elves, fairies, and werewolves, as well as in many animals in nature.”

“Phasers are also known as Heat-Ray weapons, which have existed in science fiction since H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ in 1898,” the complaint notes.

Besides the questions Axanar raises over the copyright protections, they also argue that the allegations aren’t specific enough, since it’s not specified which exact copyrights have been infringed.

“While Plaintiffs allege that they own ‘more than 700’ Star Trek television episodes, a dozen motion pictures, and four books, they still fail to specify which of those copyrights Defendants have allegedly infringed,” the write.

As a result, Axanar Productions asks the court to dismiss or strike the copyright claims in question.

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