Is Klingon Copyrightable? Paramount Thinks So
Mar. 15, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — Paramount and CBS are suing the creators of a crowdfunded film of Star Trek (as yet unfilmed) for $1 million claiming it infringes on the franchise’s copyright. The original complaint was filed on December 29, 2015 claiming that the project used “innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes”. It was subsequently amended last Friday to include specific allegations of copyright infringements.
The fan film, which markets itself as a “Star Trek like you have never seen before”, was developed by Axanar and Alec Peters, raising more than $1 million from 8,000 donors on the crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter and Indiegogo. Axanar brought a dismissal motion against the original complaint in February claiming that there was not enough detail in the lawsuit identifying which of the thousands of copyrights pertaining to the Star Trek franchise the plaintiffs were referring to.
On Friday, Paramount duly complied with request and provided a 48-page document of detailed alleged copyright violations committed by Axanar’s proposed film. The claims relate to the infringements relating to the use of copyrighted costumes, Vulcan ears and, most notable from a legal standpoint, the Klingon language.
The latter claim has caused some ripples in the intellectual property world, as it has not been clearly established whether a language is copyrightable. As The Hollywood Reporter notes, this is a poignant issue which is currently being litigated by Oracle and Google over coding language in Application programme interfaces (APIs).
While it is understandable that a copyright-holder must defend their rights, some commentators are of the opinion that the lawsuit is seeking excessive damages. As noted, the fan film raised just over $1 million in crowdfunding. Paramount and CBS are not only attempting to shut down the fan film project, but are seeking a further $150,000 per copyright infringement which could see Axanar landed with a hefty sum.
Axanar and Alec Peters are yet to respond to the amended lawsuit. It will be interesting to see whether they will cave in or persist. Justin Lin, the director of the Star Trek Beyond film, however, has his own thoughts on the matter: