Language copyright: Strange, but True ✨

Language copyright: Strange, but True ✨

Hollywood firm Paramount Pictures is attempting to claim ownership of the Klingon language to block its usage in a Star Trek-inspired film.

Language copyright: Strange, but True ✨

Hollywood firm Paramount Pictures is attempting to claim ownership of the Klingon language to block its usage in a Star Trek-inspired film.  

This is an unusual example, made further stranger by the imaginary origin of the language in question. But this isn’t the first time a language has been legally claimed. Several recent high-profile litigation have addressed the topic of whether a language can be copyrighted.  

Copyright the Klingon language 

The most recent legal study of this issue stemmed from an innovative endeavor that took life on crowdfunding platforms such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. This effort aims to fund and support a new film in the popular Star Trek franchise (working title: ‘Axanar’).  

The only problem is that this project is being launched independently of Paramount Pictures, which owns the original series. Paramount is angry about a number of concerns, including the proposal to include Klingon in the story of the Axanar film production.  

Klingon is the fictional language of a fictional alien race in the world of Star Trek, initially invented by Gene Roddenberry and now controlled by Paramount Studios.  The studio is suing Axanar Productions and its producer, Alec Peters, to obtain rights to the language and other creative aspects generated for one of the mid-decade Star Trek films in the 1980s.  

Even linguist Marc Okrand, who originally standardized the Klingon language, questioned if Paramount was the rightful proprietor of the language. Although he published the first dictionary of the Klingon language, he asserted: “As far as I know, Klingon has never been officially identified as belonging to anyone chief”. Axanar’s own lawyer further claimed that we cannot copyright “useful” things like clothing or a language.  In response to this argument, Paramount claimed that Klingon was useless because the Klingons did not exist, and thus the language could not be utilized to communicate with them.  

Copyright the Klingon language

Copyright the Klingon language 

Language copyright is a new phenomenon 

Legal ownership of newly created languages appears to be a major worry. This includes Tolkien’s Elves, invented around 1910, and the Klingon, invented for Star Trek in the 1980s.  

A recent legal lawsuit involving two computer programming heavyweights, Oracle and Google, sought to ascertain whether a programming language may be copyrighted (the outcomes are inconclusive). Oracle has followed Google’s case against its usage of Java on Android, which affects half of all smartphones worldwide.  

Java may have been provided to the open source community, but Oracle claims that some of the methods Android uses Java are copycat. As part of the litigation, officials have requested both parties to demonstrate that a programming language can be legally copyrighted, which has yet to be resolved.  

Java, like Klingon, was invented by corporations for a specific reason, rather than being a conventional human language with centuries of history.  

Some believe that these contentious languages are subject to copyright law due to their profit-oriented genesis. Developing any functional language entails significant effort, and the legal system prefers that such effort be rewarded.  

Language copyright is a new phenomenon

Language copyright is a new phenomenon 

Intellectual property rights are critical to the legal system, so it’s understandable that many people want to see this matter settled. Languages evolve and take on a life of their own through the contributions of others, including avid Star Trek fans and linguists.  As the number of authors rises over time, it becomes impossible to claim ownership.  

Artificial languages, such as English or Chinese, vary from genuine human languages primarily in this way. Although there have been many efforts to refine every language in the world, most of the original authors have long since passed away, and it would be difficult for any single individual to contribute to the effort to establish any language that is in common use.  Even Marc Okrand, the linguist recruited by Paramount in the 1980s to develop a fairly workable language called Klingon, did not claim authorship.  

In addition to Axanar’s usage of Klingon, the Paramount complaint addresses a variety of problems. It also raises concerns about the use of other innovative elements from the original series, such as Roddenberry’s alien races, which first appeared in the 1960s and 1970s, visual elements like the spaceship command post and clothing, and technical gadgets like the communications equipment used in the film. Paramount’s primary worry appears to be the unlawful use of the whole Star Trek franchise to construct a spin-off.  

In the past, the studio has permitted, even encouraged, fan fiction (short stories and novels set in the Star Trek universe and featuring characters from the franchise). Clearly, Paramount isn’t willing to grant the same permission to fan fiction films as they do to tangible properties. The Axanar project has also proven to be a profitable venture, having raised almost half a million dollars on Kickstarter and a comparable amount on Indiegogo.  

Online fan fiction products are usually non-profit, and their creators rarely sue unless someone profits from their original works.  

This also happened with Tolkien’s work, which did not bother prosecuting anyone who utilized the Elves language based on his work because there was little evidence that anyone was profiting from it.  

With these recent litigation, it appears that we are no closer to settling the question of whether a language can be copyrighted. Paramount’s complaint addresses a number of issues related to the unlawful use of its creative concepts, and the stakes extend beyond the Klingon language itself. It will be interesting to observe what happens in the dispute between Oracle and Google. What appears evident is that copyright is frequently asserted when monetary interests are at stake, but the outcome of this case could have far-reaching implications beyond the film and television industries.

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Translation Instructions and Efficient Ways to Build Them

7 steps of the basic translation process 

Each LSP has its own translation method, which can be tailored to the needs of the customer. However, in general, LSPs must assure adherence to a defined procedure. In this post, AM Vietnam will outline seven fundamental stages that all professional translation efforts must follow.

blank

Translation Quality Assurance with Xbench in 09 Steps

Quality assurance with Xbench is an essential stage in ensuring translation quality in professional translation today. Join AM Vietnam to learn how to utilize Xbench, one of the most successful translation QA tools available today.