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Conlang legal protection (WAS: Conlang music)

From:Sai Emrys <saizai@...>
Date:Thursday, January 8, 2009, 9:54
On Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 5:35 PM, Paul Kershaw <ptkershaw@...> wrote:
> From: David J. Peterson <dedalvs@...> > Chris: > << > If I write a book in Esperanto, it's equally copyrightable as if I'd written it > in any natlang. If I write in Klingon, I'd need approval from either Okrand > or Paramount, whoever is listed as the copyright owner. If I wrote in Quenya, > it might fall either way, depending on the opinions of the Tolkien estate. >>> > > Wait. Is this true? Are you certain? I'm sure that's what Paramount > and Okrand would say now, but has it been legally tested? If it has, > I'd like to read the case. > -David > > It hasn't, and I don't think Paramount would win. Wikipedia suggests the best > precedent is Feist v Rural > (, > where a telephone book company tried to argue that its contents were > copyrighted. SCOTUS ruled that you can copyright how you present information, > but you can't copyright information itself (so if I type up the phone book in > a different format, I wouldn't be violating copyright law). > > As far as I can tell (but IANAL), any claim would have to come under trademark > law, not copyright law. For instance, that's how Lucas managed to stop Luther > Campbell from performing as Luke Skyywalker > ( I'm not sure the > courts would be impressed with someone's attempt to claim all the thousands > of words in their conlang are trademarked, though. > > But I also agree with Chris's follow-up: It's good form to ask permission, even > if it's not legally required.
AFAIK, the legal argument here is that, unlike a normal phonebook, map, or dictionary, a conlang author has created the words that are being listed - they're not externally existing information that is being described. If a court ruled that this is the case, then practically speaking, using words created by the author would be copyright infringement (although potentially covered by one of the exclusions that makes that OK). However, making up new words might not be, since copyright does not protect *methods*, i.e. the grammar itself, just *content*, i.e. the corpus. One could argue that a grammar is patentable. Practically though - I don't know of any court cases that have actually tested either of these arguments, so it's pretty nebulous. - Sai


Philip Newton <philip.newton@...>
Chris Wright <dhasenan@...>
Paul Kershaw <ptkershaw@...>