Difference between Klingon and Tengwar

Daphne Preston-Kendal dpk at nonceword.org
Sun Sep 19 02:57:57 CDT 2021

On 16 Sep 2021, at 21:42, Hans Åberg via Unicode <unicode at corp.unicode.org> wrote:

> Languages, including orthography, are not copyrightable. Movie and TV production companies regularly make copyright claims of no legal basis.

Firstly, I am not a lawyer.

However, you may be ignoring that Unicode is an international standard. It may be true in some jurisdictions that an alphabet is not copyrightable. Those jurisdictions may include the US where the Unicode Consortium is incorporated. But we have to consider all jurisdictions worldwide.

The Klingon alphabet is a collection of original graphic designs, each individual one of which could be considered a creative copyrightable work in some countries. (Countries in the European copyright regime come to mind, since here the barrier to copyrightability (e.g. the sweat of the brow doctrine) and to a copyright claim (e.g. the French system where architects have copyright claims in photos of their completed buildings) is generally lower than in the US.) Now, you could argue by the nature of Unicode that we’re not really incorporating the designs *themselves* into the standard, just assigning each of them a unique number. But the PDF and papers copies of the standard do include sample images of the character, which could present a copyright problem on the standard documents, even if not causing a problem for *users* of the standard, which is the main issue people in this thread seem to be concerned about so far.

There is also a slightly more nebulous question around whether an alphabet as a set of sounds to which characters are assigned, divorced from the actual graphic representation of those characters, might be copyrightable. (That is: assume momentarily that e.g. the Greek alphabet is a conscript. Would its owner have a copyright in the collection of the names of the letters and the sounds they represent, distinct from a potential copyright in the designs of each of the characters?) I doubt even in Europe that would be the case, but again — we have to think worldwide here.

Unicode would need to take serious legal advice before making a move towards encoding any script of this nature.


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