Conflict over fan productions is creating such a legal argle-bargle that to sort it out would require either an obsessive crackpot who’s escaped from his keeper or Samuel T. Cogley, attorney at law.
At the forefront is, of course, the ongoing Axanar lawsuit, with Paramount and CBS coming down on the fan production for potentially millions of dollars worth of damages. (We talked about it at length on the Shuttlepod podcast here.)
Yesterday, CBS/Paramount and Axanar Productions issued a joint statement agreeing to a year-long schedule of “discovery and motion” before a trial begins next May. A settlement might come sooner as Judge R. Gary Klausner issued an order in March that attorneys find an alternative way to resolve the dispute, thus avoiding the cost of a trial, such as settlement overseen by a federal magistrate (which both parties say they would prefer).
Regardless, this climate seems to have put everyone on edge about the future of other fan productions, with some already being asked by CBS to shut down.
Moreover, with only two days left in its Indiegogo campaign, Star Trek Continues has raised less than half of its $350,000 goal for the next several episodes. The reasons for this may be many, but its clear that the Axanar lawsuit is a big factor – STC has reportedly received several inquiries asking whether or not the suit would affect ongoing production of Continues and expressing anxiety over donating. Making things worse, recently William Shatner himself came down on STC via Twitter for using his image without permission.
Will Fictional Polyglots Be Saying Qapla?
And now some fans are pushing back against Paramount over the Klingon language, one of the sticking points where Axanar had allegedly violated Paramount’s intellectual property.
As reported by UPI, the Language Creation Society has filed an amicus brief and exhibits in the case of Paramount/CBS v. Axanar over the studios’ claim to copyright of the Klingon language from the various incarnations of Trek, arguing you can’t copyright a language.
The group’s lawyer, First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza, argues, “Paramount Pictures lacks the ‘yab bang chut’ or ‘mind property law’ necessary to claim copyright over the Klingon language.”
Paramount’s attorney, David Grossman, shot back that, “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.”
The outcome of this case could have ramifications on other fictional languages, such as Game of Thrones’ Dothraki and Tolkien’s Elvish.
(Yes, I know there is no “Elvish.” Technically Tolkien created multiple Elf languages, like Quenya and Sindarin, and even multiple scripts. The most famous is Tengwar. But we’re talking about Star Trek here, people. Focus.)
If only this dispute could be settled as simply as a Ferengi explaining finances to a group of Klingons!
With reinvigoration in the franchise – the upcoming Star Trek All Access, a third Abrams-verse movie, a potential fourth down the road – the opportunity for Paramount/CBS to monetize the 50-year-old brand is greater than it’s been since the 1990s. Given new opportunities available in the modern market with online sales, web series, and social media, Star Trek could be at its most profitable ever. And as Quark might remind us, “A wise man can hear profit in the wind.”
What that means for the relationship between the fans and the studio remains for the courts to decide.
Update and correction: We have edited this article to clarify that the LCS has not created a new lawsuit against Paramount and CBS. Rather, they have filed an amicus brief to the already ongoing Paramount/CBS v Axanar lawsuit.