Where are the limits of copyright? Copyright in general is limited to those new and original works, fixed in a tangible medium. In regards to computer programs, they are also considered literary works for the purposes of copyright law, and so, it could be argued that the language of a system could be granted copyright protections. However, what happens when it is not simply a computer program, but the language the programs use that is subject to copyright? Can a language be subject to copyright protection? Does it matter what the language is used for?
Oracle v. Google: API as a Copyrightable Language
Our first example is the ongoing Oracle v. Google case. As it stands currently, Google has lost, pending the results of the remanded decision later this month regarding any fair use defenses. This has resulted in the copyright being granted to Oracle for Java’s API (i.e., Application Programming Interface), which is a computer code that allows programs to talk to one another, like the share button on this blog post’s page, allowing a person to link this post to Twitter or Facebook. Those codes were provided by Twitter/Facebook, and allow the browser to “talk” to another application.
Google was alleging that it took the Java API and adapted it for use in Android, so the base code could be used by programmers. While the trial court agreed with Google initially that the API was not eligible for copyright protections, the appellate court disagreed and remanded the case to the trial court. Ultimately, this left them with a fair use defense, with the risk that their business would be subject to penalties equal to the value of the infringement. Yet, just recently Google has succeeded, however, it’s facing another appeal.
Axanar and the Klingon Language
Importing concerns as to other languages, an offhanded remark during the Oracle case regarding the potential copyright protections to the Klingon language came to pass. Axanar Productions, a start-up business had gathered funding through crowdfunding in order to start up their larger business, using the funds to create an initial investment to create Star Trek fan films, in addition to other science fiction projects. In response to their initial work Prelude to Axanar, they were sued by Paramount claiming infringement of its copyright through various smaller elements taken to make “Star Trek.” However, of note, is its claim that the Klingon Language was protected by copyright through the incorporation of the Klingon to English Dictionary. This has launched a debate as to if a fictional language can be protected.
Ultimately, Paramount appears to be dismissing the lawsuit shortly after this debate had formed. Although, it is noteworthy that the argument was made that this language was sufficiently different from Oracle due to the additional limitation of syntax, as opposed to a limitation of words. The parties in amicus briefs further argued that because Klingon was a more structured language than the API in Oracle, it would have been exempt from copyright protections.
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