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DabuQlu’DI’ yISuv. In Klingon, the language invented by Marc Okrand for Star Trek V: The Undiscovered Country, this means “When threatened, fight.” This is exactly what the producers of the Star Trek fan film Axanar, led by Alec Peters, are doing. Paramount and CBS have filed a joint suit against the production citing “thousands” of copyright violations upon which Axanar purportedly infringes.  Axanar will tell the tale of the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, before the time of Captain James T. Kirk’s command of the Enterprise. The film is not completed, and production is temporarily halted while this mess gets sorted out.

The suit brought, however, was extremely vague, yet wants $150,000 in damages for each violation in the film — a film which no one, not even its own producers, has seen yet. The defendants brought a dismissal motion that pointed out these facts, so last Friday Paramount and CBS filed an amended complaint. The additions cover such things as pointy ears on Vulcans, the colors of of the uniform shirts, the shape of the emblems on those uniforms, and various logos, props, technology concepts and so forth. Here is the entire amendment in full.

The hasty, half-baked approach taken by CBS/Paramount’s attorneys from entertainment legal firm Loeb & Loeb LLC doesn’t appear to have improved significantly from the original filing. It looks to us (and we are not lawyers, nor do we play lawyers on TV) like they are spitballing this, throwing little wet wads of paper at the wall to see what sticks. For example, they complain that Axanar has no legal right to put their characters in gold colored shirts with stretch knit collars. Note here also that while they each seem to have gold emblems on their chests, they really don’t look much alike:

goldshirt

Also note that in very rare cases, clothing cannot be copyrighted.

Then there are the pointy ears on Vulcans, and the mention of Vulcans as a race or species:

vulcans

Many story elements are cited, and there are a lot of parallels and direct usage. However, can these individual elements be copyrighted? We lack the expertise to comment, but it seems to us that at least some cannot. One particularly strange new inclusion, however, is “mood and theme”. How in the world Paramount thinks that “science fiction action adventure” is something they thought up themselves, and over which they should be given complete sway and dominion, defies our imagination. Even as such, CBS/Paramount claims “thousands” of violations, and still have not done more than provide a cursory hint at what those violations might be.

The big surprise, though, is a complete and total claim to the Klingon Language. Traditionally, languages cannot be copyrighted. If they could, some industrious troll could register the English language and charge us all a tithe to speak it or write in it. There have been books written about the language, and those are copyrighted, however, traditionally language itself cannot be.

Taken together, the legal team lining up the arguments against Axanar seem to be just throwing random stuff at the floor to see what bounces and what doesn’t. Filing suit against a film that has not yet been made and that nobody has seen probably isn’t helping them. Making claims to copyright that anybody with access to Wikipedia could make a cogent point against probably isn’t helping them either.

To their credit, the Axanar production team has been extremely transparent about where the money goes, as much so as any other fan production based on Star Trek. Many of the difficulties have arisen because CBS/Paramount had, prior to filing a law suit, carefully avoided actually telling Axanar what they could and could not do, essentially waiting for them to slip up so they could snare them on some technicality.

The net result, though, may be that Axanar stays tied up in court for years and never sees the light of day. Perhaps this is CBS/Paramount’s real strategy.

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