Court: Resistance To Star Trek Copyright Claims Is Futile

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The lawsuit between Paramount Pictures and the crowdfunded Star Trek spin-off "Prelude to Axanar" will continue, a California federal court has ruled. The makers of the spin-off asked the court to dismiss the case arguing that several elements, including the Klingon language, are not protected by copyright. However, the court has now ruled that resistance is futile, for now.

axanarEarlier this year Paramount Pictures and CBS Studios filed a lawsuit against the makers of a 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 Axanar.

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

The makers of the fan-spinoff responded to several of the allegations last month. Among other things, they argued that the Klingon language is not copyrightable because it’s not more than an idea or a system. They therefore asked the court to dismiss or strike the copyright claims in question.

The court reviewed the matter and has now decided that the case should proceed. This means that the Axanar makers have to face the copyright claims Paramount and CBS lodged against them.

In his order, District Court Judge Gary Klausner doesn’t reject the notion that several individual elements such as the Klingon language may not be protected by copyright. However, the case deals with the entire “Star Trek world,” which is a combination of these.

“When viewed in a vacuum, each of these elements may not individually be protectable by copyright. Plaintiffs, however, do not seek to enforce their copyright in each of these elements individually. Rather, Plaintiffs’ copyright infringement claims are based on the Star Trek Copyrighted Works as a whole.”

“The Complaint clearly defines the works at issue, and includes the copyright registration numbers for the motion pictures and the first episode of each television series,” the order adds.

At this point there is no need to rule on the copyright status of various Star Trek features, as they were merely used as an illustration of the similarity between the official and the spin-off Star Trek works.

“The Court finds it unnecessary to analyze whether the allegedly non-protectable elements of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works are eligible for copyright protection because Plaintiff describes these elements in the Complaint solely in an effort to demonstrate how the Axanar Works are substantially similar to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works,” the Judge writes.

Several other arguments to dismiss the case were denied as well, which means that the case will proceed as planned.

Since the court did not decide over the copyrightability of the Klingon language, the amicus brief submitted by the Language Creation Society (LCS) is moot and will not be considered at this point.

Finally, while the crowdfunded Star Trek spin-off failed to get the case dismissed, Judge Gary Klausner made no judgment about the copyright claims themselves, which will have to be fought in court. However, as LCS notes, he did slip a Star Trek reference into his order.

“Although the Court declines to address whether Plaintiffs’ Claims will prosper at this time, the Court does find Plaintiffs’ claims will live long enough to survive Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss.”

To be continued.

Live long and prosper…



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