Legal Brief Partly in Klingon to Counter a Big Movie Studio

The copyright infringement case filed by Paramount Pictures Corporation against the Star Trek fan production Axanar has been in the news a bit this spring. I have a mild interest in it, but I don’t spend much time following the reports—with one marvellous, excellent, and hilarious exception.

Attorney Marc Randazza wrote an amicus curiae brief for Language Creation Society (i.e., for the defendant’s benefit) to counter a copyright claim by Paramount “over the entire Klingon language, not any particular words or portions of dialogue from any episodes of Star Trek, but in the entire vocabulary, graphemes, and grammar rules of Klingon.”

His friend and co-blogger Ken White at Popehat shared the story and the brief itself (as a .pdf file). (The full docket for the case is also available via the U.S. Courts Archive.)

Mr. Randazza not only argues that one cannot copyright an entire language, invented or not; he also briefly summarizes the history and some current uses of Klingon. (Did you know, for example, that the Klingon Language Institute has overseen Klingon wordplay contests? I didn’t. Check them out; the palindromes are especially awesome.)

The best thing about the brief, however, is how Mr. Randazza uses Klingon—complete with the Klingon font, transliterations to the Latin alphabet, and translations—to illustrate his arguments.

I’ve copied three examples below without the Klingon font, using the Latin transliterations instead and adding the English translations Mr. Randazza provides. It’s worthwhile to visit the .pdf brief available online (here or here) for the full effect, though.

“Plaintiff Paramount Pictures Corporation (“Paramount”) has claimed this copyright interest for many years, but has not actually asserted it in court before now – most likely because the notion of it is [meq Hutlh / it lacks reasons].”

[p. 9 of 26]

“Just as poker jargon is unprotectable, so is Klingon. To grant such protection would be to attempt to leash that which Plaintiffs have no right to control. Plaintiffs will learn that [Suvlu’taHvIS yapbe’ HoS neH / brute strength is not the most important asset in a fight].”

[pp. 16-17 of 26]

“Plaintiffs attempt to downplay the significance of their claim of ownership over the Klingon language by arguing that ‘a language is only useful if it can be used to communication [sic] with people, and there are no Klingons with whom to communicate.’ […]

“A language is not constrained to a given ethnic or racial group. By their logic, Ancient Greek is not ‘useful’ because the Ancient Greeks are no longer with us, and the language has no native speakers, despite it being the original language of some of the seminal literary and philosophical works of the western world. Plaintiffs’ logic would seem to dictate that French is not ‘useful’ if spoken by a native German. [qoH vuvbe’ SuS / The wind does not respect a fool.]”

[pp. 23-24 of 26]

At the very least, do yourself a favor and check out how the first line of the Sesame Street theme song translates into Klingon (pp. 23-24). Ha!

Randazza Amicus Curiae Paramount v Axanar

Mr. Randazza’s straightforward and humorous writing not only counters stereotypes about legal language, but it’s also very informative. (And he did it pro bono!) Qapla’, sir!

Image: Screencap from Brief of Amicus Curiae by Marc J. Randazza for Paramount v. Axanar (case no. 2:15-cv-09938-RGK-E) filed April 26, 2016

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