Can a newly designed script be owned/privatised/copyrighted?

I had a discussion with Deborah Anderson (Researcher in the Department of Linguistics who runs the Script Encoding Initiative project) about how one might attempt to encoded a script in Unicode if the script's creator is against it being encoded. I'm aware of the usual route of submitting a proposal to the Unicode Consortium, receiving feedback, etc etc. However, if a script is developed—which includes new letterforms/shapes—and the creator wishes for this script to remain private for his own usage, how far do their legal rights stretch? It raises some of the following questions:

1.  Can the creator of the script block its Unicode proposal and on what grounds?
2.  If yes, are they in their legal right to do so?
3.  Can the shape of a letterform or an entire script be 'privatised'?
4.  Has there been any examples in history of similar occurrences? The Romain du Roi could be used as an example but that's more about the forms of the pre-established Latin than a new script.

One solution is to digitise the script and use encodings from Unicode's Private Use Area (PUA), but I'm not considering this a desirable solution. I'm posting this on TypeDrawers to generate discussion and hear what others have to contribute.

Comments

  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,675
    Interesting question.

    This could also be the case if the person doesn't wish to keep it private, but does wish to avoid full formalization (for example to make it easier for others to add symbols). Standardization can stifle –or at least narrow– evolution.
  • 1. – no. Anybody can propose whatever he wants to propose.
    2. – please mind the difference between a proposal and actual encoding.
    3. – hardly.
    4. – not to my knowledge.

    You may wish to give us more insight upon the actual case you have in mind, so we can come to the point without cumbersome theorising.
  • Khaled HosnyKhaled Hosny Posts: 284
    Isn’t this one of the reasons Unicode is hesitant to encode Klingon? http://klingon.wiki/En/Unicode

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,933
    Because the script is an invention, it is possible that it could be patented, or that copyright could be claimed on the invention of the script as an artistic product in itself. Those would be the two legal routes I could imagine someone taking to retain control over inventor rights to a new script.


  • Because the script is an invention, it is possible that it could be patented, or that copyright could be claimed on the invention of the script as an artistic product in itself. Those would be the two legal routes I could imagine someone taking to retain control over inventor rights to a new script.
    … in either case it would hardly make any sense for anybody to propose that script for encoding. On the other hand, Unicode/ISO bodies would most likely reject such a proposal, because to run into legal issues with copyright holders is clearly not the aim of encoding practice.

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,933
    I think the case that Paul is probably thinking about is a complicated one, because the script in question is ostensibly for the use of a language community, but the person who invented it wants to retain control over how it is used. Personally, I think the inventor hasn't really understood how writing systems work as communal tools, but am also sympathetic to his distrust of outside interference given that he is, as far as I know, still a political prisoner.
  • Paul HanslowPaul Hanslow Posts: 43
    I think the case that Paul is probably thinking about is a complicated one, because the script in question is ostensibly for the use of a language community, but the person who invented it wants to retain control over how it is used. Personally, I think the inventor hasn't really understood how writing systems work as communal tools, but am also sympathetic to his distrust of outside interference given that he is, as far as I know, still a political prisoner.
    This.

    @Andreas Stötzner, my original post was theoretical, as many of my thoughts around the subject were just that...theory. For myself it really comes down to what's enforceable from a legal standpoint by the script's creator. If someone designed a script and wanted to restrict its access (i.e. control its distribution and usage), is this possible? If so, on what grounds? Nothing is stopping a type designer from creating outlines and 'owning' a digital version of the script. Or is doing this a violation of copyright? That's what my mind was pondering.

    At the moment putting time and effort towards submitting a Avoiuli proposal to Unicode is out of the question due to lacking access to Avoiuli resources and materials. I've been informed that doing so may result in it being blocked due to the script creator's wishes. Who knows, it's unfamiliar territory.

    As a side note I've had a slightly different yet relevant experience where I was designing a minority script—which is encoded in Unicode—and I received no help from the expert of this script after they repeatedly said they were happy to assist. I believe the issue was complicated as the 'expert' had a vested interest in keeping others from digitising the script as it would create competition with his/hers own digitisations (i.e. fonts). 


  • This question is a bit similar to questions I've seen raised in other contexts: Should an ethnic community be able to limit knowledge of their language or ability to use it by people outside that ethnic group, including ability to provide software or other resources for it? Is it cultural appropriation for outsiders to use the language? And Is cultural appropriation in any form bad?

    Whether the inventor is willing for it to be encoded or not, it won't get considered for encoding unless there's evidence that there is an active and on-going community of users of the script.

    So, suppose there is a community of users: potentially any of them could propose it for encoding. (An outsider also could potentially propose it, but let's skirt that for the moment.) There's no clear policy I'm aware of in Unicode for a scenario in which there is a thriving user community that wants it encoded but an inventor that doesn't. Inevitably, when there is an active user community, there will be some point at which the inventor no longer completely controls its usage. In the short term, standardizing committees might wait to see if the user community and inventor sort out their disagreement before taking action.

    But as pointed out, if the inventor trademarks or patents things pertaining to the script, that would likely block encoding, as long as those remain in force.
  • Paul HanslowPaul Hanslow Posts: 43
    Thanks, Peter. Succinct and nicely said (as usual).
  • I don’t quite see what the problem may be here. If the creator of the script wants to keep ownership/control over it completely on his own part, he can claim copyright and do his best to maintain it. But then – and that is obvious if one makes oneself only basically familiar with the principles of UC encoding –, there is no point in proposing that script to Unicode. The Unicode Consortium has the task of maintaining and developing the Universal Character Set (UCS), which definition implies fundamentally that every character encoded is available as an encoded character for anyone in the world. Issues of design and graphic details or origin of design are irrelevant once a character has been admitted to the UCS.
    As I said, if the inventor has reservations about ‘somebody’ touching his creation, he may follow his own policy of keeping that script in isolation for restricted usage. But in that case an encoding in the UCS is completely out of the question.

  • At the moment putting time and effort towards submitting a Avoiuli proposal to Unicode is out of the question due to lacking access to Avoiuli resources and materials. I've been informed that doing so may result in it being blocked due to the script creator's wishes. Who knows, it's unfamiliar territory.
    Two more thoughts about that.
    1) In order to say Yes to a proposal the ISO and UTC bodies evaluate the documented situation of usage of a proposed character set. If they recognise a sort of communal usage even among a confined community of users who actually use it as a means of producing text, that is a Pro. If such a real-world usage scenario can not be found testified, that is likely to cause a No. Please keep in mind, if a notational system is actually testified as being in real use, the question of ‘who done it’ is secondary to irrelevant.
    2) If you consider to forward an encoding proposal of a particular script without or against the backing of the founder of that script, you may wish to ask yourself: a) is there intellectual property issues involved? b) does the inventor actually claim IP rights which restrict general usage? c) will you do a favour to the user community of that script, are they aware of your initiative and do they honour your endeavour?

    To cut a long story short: the ISO and UTC bodies will refuse any possible IP issues arising in connection to a new script proposal. If you’re uncertain about that point, clear that aspect in advance with whoever may be relevant for this – or drop the whole thing.
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