2009/1/8 Sai Emrys <[log in to unmask]>:
> On Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 5:35 PM, Paul Kershaw <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> 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.

This is true -- that's why conlangs can probably have protection.

However, take as an example Finnegan's Wake. Take a selection of its
non-English words (they're mostly nonsense to the casual reader [I am
a casual reader]). Create a new story using only those words. Is that
a copyright violation? Can you copyright a single word?

I think the courts would not accept that. People attempting to control
the use of a very small work have invariably turned to trademarks, and
Paul Kershaw has argued against that.

> 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.

The patent could cover the whole language, not just the grammar.

What is claimed is:
1. A system of encoding thoughts.
2. A system as claimed in (1) wherein the encoding is verbal.
3. A system as claimed in (2) wherein there exists a written encoding
for the verbal components.
4. A system as claimed in (2) consisting of a phonology, a lexicon,
and a grammar.

But this suffers the same issue as software patents. Software patents
get around this by using "a system comprised of a computer and...",
which isn't appropriate to languages.

> Practically though - I don't know of any court cases that have
> actually tested either of these arguments, so it's pretty nebulous.
> - Sai