Just as things were getting interesting, the focus of the Star Trek lawsuit has swung back around to the boring old law. If you haven’t been keeping up with the Federation’s law bulletin section, Paramount and CBS filed suit against the makers of Axanar, a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film, over copyright infringement. The million dollars the filmmakers raised for their project raised their profile beyond the usual fan-made production, so Paramount and CBS took them to court for profiting off their intellectual property without express permission. (And if Paramount and CBS are wondering, the “Federation law bulletin” is not an actual thing, and therefore does not need to be added to their suit.)
The Axanar team responded in a far nerdier fashion, asking the studio and network to detail exactly what concepts were being used without consent. But Paramount and CBS fired back by simply enumerating the “innumerable elements” they alluded to in their complaint. That long list included the Klingon language, which was commissioned just for the franchise. The Language Creation Society tried to file an amicus brief to oppose the idea that a “useful system” like the Klingon language could be owned by anyone, when it’s clearly for everyone (well, anyone who looks good with forehead ridges).
But according to The Hollywood Reporter, U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner has taken all the fun out of the proceedings by not allowing the Language Creation Society to file their amicus brief. The judge also denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss, noting that the court is allowed to “filter out and disregard the non-protectable elements in making [its] substantial similarity determination,” meaning that everyone can stop worrying about the relationship between Vulcans and vampires.
Furthermore, although money is an obsolete concept in the 23rd century, the setting for the Axanar film, it is currently a pretty useful system. Even if profits aren’t likely or desired, Paramount and CBS filed a “vicarious infringement claim,” which meant they had to demonstrate how Axanar’s team would benefit financially from the film. The judge notes that since the elements of the intellectual property in dispute were used to promote the campaigns and project, and they “[acted] as a ‘draw’ for customers’ to watch Defendants’ films,” then the proceeds of the fundraising campaigns could be proof of said infringement. It’s not as much fun as quoting “The Measure Of A Man,” but it is the law.
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