Paramount wants to kill a fan-film by claiming copyright on the Klingon language

The crowdfunded, critically successful fan-film Prelude to Axanar has been in Paramount's cross-hairs since late last year, when the studio filed suit against the film's producers.

In a fresh round of briefs, Paramount has expanded on the rationale for their copyright claims, including their claim to Klingon (which they erroneously claim has no speakers).

Ever since linguist Marc Okrand formalized his work on the Klingon language as a consultant on Star Trek films and published The Klingon Dictionary, the legal status of the synthetic language has been the subject of controversy.

From the earliest days, Paramount asserted a copyright over Klingon, despite the dubiousness of claiming copyright over a language, especially one that admittedly borrows phonemes from Hindi, Arabic, Tlingit, and Yiddish and grammar from Japanese, Turkish, and Mohawk. More problematically, what does it mean for a corporation to assert ownership of a language that has at least one native speaker (who may or may not have rated this amazing crib) and many more who speak it daily as a second conversational language, hosting learned workshops on their chosen language.

Paramount also asserts a copyright in the designs of Klingon ships and "spacedocks," citing a controversial 2015 ruling that held that the Batmobile was a "character" and subject to copyright restrictions.

However, Paramount and CBS disagree (bIlughbe'*). In their reply the rightsholders call the argument absurd and among other things, they point out that the language system is not very useful if there are no real Klingons to communicate with.

"This argument is absurd, since a language is only useful if it can be used to communicate with people, and there are no Klingons with whom to communicate," they write (full filing: pdf).

"Defendants' use of the Klingon language in their works is simply further evidence of their infringement of Plaintiffs' characters, since speaking this fictitious language is an aspect of their characters."