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The 9 Best Parts of a Legal Brief on Behalf of Klingon Speakers

If someone invents a language and people start to use it, who owns it? Last year Paramount and CBS filed a lawsuit against a production company preparing to make a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film called Axanar, claiming copyright on various elements of the franchise universe, including the Klingon language. According to The Hollywood Reporter,

“After the Star Trek rights holders filed their complaint, the defendant production company demanded of the franchise's copyrighted elements. In response, Paramount and CBS listed a lot, but what drew most attention was claimed entitlement to the Klingon language. The defendant then reached back to a 19th century Supreme Court opinion for the proposition that Klingon is not copyrightable as a useful system.”

The plaintiffs responded with a huff of disdain, claiming “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."

They should have known better than to mess with the Klingons. Do they not already know that a Klingon warrior never backs down from a direct challenge? Of course, there are no actual Klingons, but there are indeed actual Klingon speakers, and the Language Creation Society got a lawyer to draft an amicus brief laying out the 100 percent serious and completely valid arguments for denying any copyright claims on the Klingon language. Here are nine of the best things about it.

1. THEY CITE PRECEDENTS.

For example, in Arica Inst., Inc. v. Palmer, 970 F.2d 1067, 1075 (2d Cir. 1992) it was ruled that “author who disavowed inventing enneagrams publicly cannot claim invention inconsistently to improve a litigation position.” Since the conceit of the original Klingon dictionary was that information about language came from an actual Klingon prisoner named Maltz, how can they now turn around and deny that statement to improve their case against these filmmakers?

2. THEY STRATEGICALLY BRANDISH KLINGON PROVERBS TO MAKE THEIR POINTS.

For example, a section describing how a community of users have for years been studying, conversing, and creating in Klingon ends this way: “as the Klingon proverb says, wa' Dol nIvDaq matay'DI' maQap. ('We succeed together in a greater whole.')”

3. THEY INSULT THE PLAINTIFFS IN APPROPRIATE STAR TREK TERMS.

After explaining how after decades of being able to use the language for various purposes—sometimes with explicit licensing agreements—the community didn’t think copyright would be suddenly asserted one day, the brief reads, “It would not take a Vulcan to explain their logic—even the Pakleds would know that nobody can 'own' a language.”

4. THEY WARN PARAMOUNT OF THE FUTILITY OF THEIR MOTION IN KLINGON TERMS.

If they wish to go ahead with the claim of infringement, “by opening this door, Plaintiffs will learn rut neH 'oH vIta'Qo' Qob law' yu' jang. ('Sometimes the only thing more dangerous than a question is an answer.')”

5. BECAUSE KLINGON LACKS A WORD FOR INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY, THEY COIN ONE.

It’s yab bang chu, or “mind property law.” The very fact that they can do this helps make the case that Klingon is an algorithm, or system of creation, and thus cannot be copyrighted.

6. THEY QUOTE THE DUDE IN KLINGON.

To emphasize a point about how a claim of exclusive ownership would destroy “an entire body of thought,” they turn to The Dude from The Big Lebowski, saying not Qam ghu'vam, loD! (“This will not stand, man!”)

7. THEY LIST THE MANY WAYS IN WHICH PEOPLE DO USE KLINGON.

With exhibits for proof:

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 communicate with people, and there are no Klingons with whom to communicate.” (ECF 31 at 16.) First, this is a non-sequitur; a process or system need not be “useful” in order to preclude copyright protection, and Plaintiffs provide no authority to the contrary.

But more importantly, this is an insulting assertion. Many humans speak Klingon. The annual qep’a’ involves singing and storytelling in Klingon. (See Exhibit 6.) People get married in Klingon. (See Exhibit 10.) Linguist d’Armond Speers even spent three years teaching his infant son to speak Klingon. (See Tara Bannow, “Local company creates Klingon dictionary,” MINNESOTA DAILY (Nov. 17, 2009), attached as Exhibit 12.)

8. THEY ILLUSTRATE THE UNIQUE GRAMMATICAL STRUCTURE OF THE LANGUAGE WITH A SESAME STREET SONG.

You see the difference between English and Klingon if note that “Sunny day, chasing the clouds away” translates to “Day of the daytime star, the clouds are filled with dread and forced to flee.”

9. THEY DROP THE MIC IN KLINGON.

The brief ends with the word Qapla’, which means "success" in English.

The brief was drafted by Marc Randazza. You can read the whole thing here.

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Designer Reimagines the Spanish Alphabet With Only 19 Letters
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According to designer José de la O, the Spanish alphabet is too crowded. Letters like B and V and S and Z are hard to tell apart when spoken out loud, which makes for a language that's "confusing, complicated, and unpractical," per his design agency's website. His solution is Nueva Qwerty. As Co.Design reports, the "speculative alphabet" combines redundant letters into single characters, leaving 19 letters total.

In place of the letters missing from the original 27-letter Spanish alphabet are five new symbols. The S slot, for example, is occupied by one letter that does the job of C, Z, and S. Q, K, and C have been merged into a single character, as have I and Y. The design of each glyph borrows elements from each of the letters it represents, making the new alphabet easy for Spanish-speakers to learn, its designer says.

Speculative Spanish alphabet.
José de la O

By streamlining the Spanish alphabet, de la O claims he's made it easier to read, write, and type. But the convenience factor may not be enough to win over some Spanish scholars: When the Royal Spanish Academy cut just two letters (CH and LL) from the Spanish alphabet in 2010, their decision was met with outrage.

José de la O has already envisioned how his alphabet might function in the real world, Photoshopping it onto storefronts and newspapers. He also showcased the letters in two new fonts. You can install New Times New Roman and Futurysma onto your computer after downloading it here.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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