Copyrighting a Language? Patak!

Copyrighting a Language? Patak!

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Languages are fascinating. I know, it’s a general blanket statement that means nothing. Yet, it is the truth. How languages have evolved over the years, decades, centuries, with their grammar, expressions, vocal tones, and how they have come to represent groups of people and distinct cultures, is nothing short of remarkable.

We take it for granted on a daily basis. But really, how incredible is it to be able to communicate with people, to be defined by the language(s) you speak, to belong and have a chance to belong to a community by learning a new language. Simply apply a set of rules and words that someone, somehow, somewhere boxed together. It blows my mind, but unfortunately many of us walking this earth are oblivious to this wonder.

What really bakes my noodle, are constructed languages as opposed to languages that originated organically. Trekkie or not, I’m sure you have heard of Klingon – the native language of billions of Klingons in the Star Trek series – invented in the 80s and set to be boosted by the next Star Trek feature. The language has its own vocabulary, cultural nuances, grammar, alphabet… it is an impressive feat and one ugly language. Thank God there are other vernaculars to choose from in Star Trek: Vulcan, Ferengi, Rihannsu (aka Romulan), Insectoid, Borg and the list goes on with languages so alien that even their universal translator cannot decipher it.

Less obvious are code or programming languages that are in principle just languages; connecting vast groups of people and helping them communicate, be it with or through computers and application platforms. All languages, invented or not, can be used freely, i.e. they are not copyrighted. I know, it seems evident, however this might all change soon.

A battle is being waged between two giants – Google and Oracle – related to the copyright infringement of Oracle’s APIs (application programming interfaces) by Google. Without going into details, an API is a language invented to talk to different platforms. While these were not patented and thus free to use, Oracle claims a substantial portion of Oracle’s Java API code was simply copied by Google, mainly to facilitate communication between its new Android platform and Java API. The pickle here is that code is made up of vocabulary and grammar; and surely no one can claim to own words and letters structured according to rules and conventions. It would be like suing the Dutch for speaking English to facilitate communication with the wider English-speaking world.

Whatever the outcome of this lawsuit, there will be far-reaching consequences. And once again money talks! If there is dough to be made, simply copyright it and sue. With the hugely successful Star Trek remakes and the use of Klingon in the upcoming release, we might see a copyright slammed on the Klingon language, making it effectively illegal to speak it, unless you pay. It is a dangerous step, which may end up stifling creativity and frankly, enjoyment.

In the meantime, if you’d like to delve into the Klingon universe, I recommend you do so by browsing the Internet now before the crackdown starts. And to those copyright sharks out there, I say a big fat Patak, Baktag.

I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. Kaplah!

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