On Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 5:35 PM, Paul Kershaw <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> From: David J. Peterson <[log in to unmask]>
> 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

However, making up new words might not be, since copyright does not
protect *methods*, i.e. the grammar itself, just *content*, i.e. the

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