Klingon: Star Trek prequel producers locked in copyright row over language with Paramount and CBS Studios

The two Hollywood studios have cited their rights to the fictional tongue to block the production of a fan-funded film

A dispute over the ownership of the Klingon language is boldly going where no legal row has gone before after two major Hollywood studios cited their copyright of the fictional Star Trek tongue to block the production of a fan-funded film.

Paramount Pictures Corp and CBS Studios, who own the Star Trek film and television franchises, have been locked in a court battle with the production team behind Axanar, an “independent” Star Trek prequel, amid claims that the fan film infringed “innumerable” copyrighted elements.

The two studios have now filed an amended complaint that lists exactly what these alleged interstellar intellectual infringements are.

According to lawyers for Paramount Pictures Corp and CBS Studios, the numerous copyright infringements in Axanar include the use of the Klingon language which court documents say  was first spoken in the first Star Trek film in 1979, and has been used by the franchise ever since. 

Estimates vary, but there are thought to be just 20-30 fluent Klingon speakers worldwide, though an independent Klingon Language Institute in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, is attempting to boost numbers through a scholarship programme. 

However linguistic experts say the cumbersome language is struggling to attract new speakers as it is useful for discussing intergalactic warfare and blood feuds but with just 3,000 words lacks everyday vocabulary. 

Klingon: A legal glossary

  • Chut: Law
  • QucHa’ta’: Dishonour
  • Maj: Financial punishment
  • Pum: Accused 
  • Dlv: Guilty
  • Chun: Innocent
  • Hegh jlp: Death penalty
  • BlghHa’: Prison 
  • Bo’DIj: Court
  • Mek’ba: The element of a Klingon trial where evidence is presented
  • G’now juk Hol pajhard: the Klingon law of hereditary succession

The court papers also list infringements which include the use of the terms “warp drive”, the “Stardate” calendar system and depictions of the lesser-known Andorian, Tellarite and Romulan races. It’s also claimed that Axanar infringes the “uniform style” of the franchise, specifically the “gold shirts” worn by Star Trek officers. 

Adam Feuerberg, who co-hosts a Star Trek-themed podcast and is a friend of the Axanar production team, said the move by Paramount Pictures Corp and CBS Studios was “good business, terrible PR” and that neither side would emerge victorious from the court case. He said: “Both sides seem to have an interesting take on the legal case behind copyright infringement, but copyright law is being redefined every day.”

Despite the legal battle the team behind Axanar has already attracted more than $1m in crowd-funding, after enlisting the some of the crew who have worked on the films and reportedly signing up George Takei, who played Mr Sulu, as a consultant.

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