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Star Trek Fan Film 'Axanar' Goes to Trial for Copyright Infringement

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Here's an IP lawsuit that's almost from another universe: Paramount v. Axanar is a copyright case against a start-up company that makes fan fiction based on the Star Trek television and movie series.

But it's more than a battle between the Star Trek copyright owners and anyone who may use their universe to create spin-offs. It's more than a battle between a Goliath (the movies alone have made more than $2 billion) and a Davidic start-up (which collected about $1 million through crowd-funding). It's a battle about the Klingons.

Yes, Klingons are entirely fictitious -- except perhaps for those fans who wear Klingon costumes to Trekkie conventions. But the Language Creation Society is real, and it recently jumped into the fray to protect the aliens' language.

When Threatened, Fight!

That's right, fans, we are not in Kansas anymore. As a result of the Klingon's motion in limine, the plaintiffs may not make any claim to the Klingon language.

Klingon, a grunting language first uttered by the warlike race of aliens in the 1980s movies, has spawned generations of Klingon-speakers. There are Klingon debating societies, Klingon dictionaries, Klingon translations of works such as "The Epic of Gilgamesh" and "Hamlet," and, of course, a Klingon amicus brief.

The language society argued in their brief that the invented language used by Klingons is not copyrightable and therefore cannot be the basis for a copyright infringement claim. The society -- not the Klingons per se because they theoretically do not exist in this universe -- said that everyone has the right to use any language (including constructed languages) without having to ask anyone's permission.

The court disagreed. However, the Language Creation Society still declared victory, according to the Washington Post, "at least to the extent that the final ruling in the case will not hold that the Klingon language is protected by copyright."

"Prelude to Axanar" Goes to Trial

Meanwhile, the trial between Paramount and "Prelude to Axanar" is set for Jan. 31, 2017. The decision will likely impact the future of fan fictions, which have been popular in many media throughout the world since at least the turn of the last century.

Untold legions of fans create fiction -- in books, movies, and online -- based on popular storylines such as Star Trek, Star Wars, and other popular series. Generally, the original copyright owners have not tried to stop fan factions primarily because they generate free publicity and invigorate fans of the originals.

However, the Paramount lawsuit does not bode well for Axanar. Paramount has released a list of the ways "Axanar" infringes copyright. A prelude to the movie, already viewed nearly 3 million times online, may not make it past the courthouse cutting-room.

Editor's Note, January 26, 2017: This article has been updated to clarify that the court rejected the Creation Language Society's motion to file its brief concerning the copyright of the Klingon language.

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