Defendants are arguing that their works are not substantially similar to Plaintiff’s works and that Plaintiffs, while owning a limited number of Star Trek episodes and films, “do not own a copyright to the idea of Star Trek, or the Star Trek Universe as a whole” (Defendants’ motion p. 7). Defendants further argue that Plaintiffs cannot claim copyright in “the general mood and theme of science fiction; names and words used in Plaintiff’s Works; elements in the public domain and nature; the Klingon language; Scènes à Faire [for once spelled correctly, I tip my hat to Defendants’ attorneys]; most specific characters; and the general costuming and appearance of, or shapes affiliated with, characters in Plaintiffs’ Works.” Once these unprotectable elements are filtered out, Defendants claim that both Plaintiffs and Defendant’s work are not substantially similar (Defendants’ motion p. 17).
Plaintiffs claimed that Defendants infringed on the Star Trek characters which are protected by copyright. They cited the Ninth Circuit DC Comics v. Towle case, where the Court found the Batmobile to be a character protected by copyright (see here). The Court laid out then a three-part test to determine whether a particular character is protected by copyright: the character must have "physical as well as conceptual qualities," the character must be "sufficiently delineated" to be recognizable as the same character whenever it appears, and the character must be "especially distinctive" and "contain some unique elements of expression.”
Defendants argued that such elements as “pointy ears” cannot be protected but, as noted in Plaintiffs’ motion, though ideas are not protectable by copyright, the expression of these ideas can be protected. Plaintiffs claim that Defendants have copied the exact Star Trek characters in their movie. Defendants admit that Plaintiffs own the copyright in the Spock and Captain Kirk characters, but that its works do not include them, “or any other characters to which Plaintiffs own separate copyright” (Defendants’ motion p. 9). Defendants also noted that the still unfinished script of the full-length movie features 50 original characters out of 57 characters in total.
Plaintiffs claim that the use of the Star Trek characters, setting and plots are not fair use, as they are not a parody or a satire, nor were they created for purposes of criticism or teaching, and thus furthered the goals of the Copyright Act. They also argue that the use is not transformative enough to be fair use, but that, instead, Defendants have “meticulously replicate[d]” the Star Trek works. For Plaintiffs, merely setting the action of the movie in a different time is not transformative enough, as the “creation of a derivative work that is set in a (slightly) different time than the original does not constitute a “transformative use” (Plaintiffs’ motion p. 19).