In response to a crowd-funded project that purported to boldly go where three generations of show-runners and filmmakers had gone before, Paramount Pictures announced they were filing suit against the unauthorized entry into the 50-year-old franchise. According to Variety, Paramount Pictures/CBS filed a suit for three complaints of copyright infringement in Los Angeles Federal Court on Tuesday.
The defendants are Alec Peters and Axanar Productions. In an interview with Variety’s Dave McNary, Peters, the producer of the project, expressed dismay at the decision by Paramount Pictures to unleash their pack of legal beagles on what he sees as a work of fan-made art.
“All the money that’s been donated goes into the production and our goal is to do good for Star Trek. We are huge fans. They are picking a fight with the wrong guys.”
Peters insists that his Star Trek prequel, Axanar, does not infringe on any of Paramount Pictures’ rights as owners of the intellectual property. The Ronin producer cited FAQ from the website for his creation. In response to the question of licensing as it applies to anything recognizably related to the Star Trek franchise, Peters and crew were upfront about their lack of official connection to Paramount.
“No, Axanar is an independent project that uses the intellectual property of CBS under the provision that Axanar is totally non-commercial. That means we can never charge for anything featuring their marks or intellectual property and we will never sell the movie, DVD/Blu-ray copies, T-shirts, or anything which uses CBS owned marks or intellectual property.”
Does a simple declaration of intent to keep everything pure of profit motive make it okay when it comes to borrowing from existing works? According to one intellectual property attorney who agreed to comment on the case, even though the makers of Axanar stated they are using all proceeds from the crowdfunding site to finance the project itself, it is still money that has been collected for the creation of a project using copyrighted material. Even though they say they will not charge anyone to see the movie, nor will they create real goods to be sold in connection with the film, it is arguable that the film itself has already been sold by the Axanar people. In effect, they are acting in competition with Paramount Pictures when they gathered investors to make a movie using anything that’s part of the Star Trek canon.
Some fans may see this as a heavy-handed response to what is a very elaborate, very expensive work of fan art. For industry insiders, there is a fine line between the creative works of fans that can serve as promotional vehicles for existing series and projects that co-opt those worlds and create something that takes control of components of that world and claims its own ownership over what happens.
“Axanar might be perfectly okay. The guys involved have a lot more to lose if they get it wrong or make something that shows Star Trek in a bad light.” One writer for a successful prime time series read statements from both sides of the issue and then grabbed a t-shirt for Team Paramount. “It’s a question of control. What I see of Axanar looks very good. I’m a Trekkie from way back. I even wrote my own Star Trek fiction when I was a kid. The thing is, I never tried to publish or distribute it, so there was little chance of my work hurting the franchise. A well-made production can help a property, and I think Alec Peters is sincere when he says he wants to help the Star Trek brand because he’s a fan and obviously loves it. His vision is probably not to far off from the people working on the licensed properties at Paramount. But what happens later on when someone wants to make a very well-done Star Trek movie and has a philosophy that runs counter to the universe Gene Roddenberry created fifty years ago?”
Now in its fifth decade, Star Trek continues contribute to pop culture lexicons. Its internal grammar of ornament has both directly and indirectly informed the material issue of popular franchises from the art direction used by mainstream media to the tons of swag generated by years of conventions. Is there a point where a fan-made movie might fall under fair use?
According to American Bar Association, only in the case of an apparent work of parody. Axanar is not a parody. The prequel is set two decades before the first episode of the original Star Trek series. The Hollywood Reporter revealed that industry insiders, some of whom have Paramount Pictures on their resumes, as parts of their Star Trek enterprises. One unconfirmed source even suggested involvement by Trek veteran and social activist/actor George Takei. The latter is certainly a ringing endorsement of Axanar. Will Trekkies everywhere get to the times past of a future world they’ve come to love? It’s up to the courts in Los Angeles, or as Mr. Takei might say, “Oh, my!”
Paramount Pictures and CBS are suing crowdfunded “Axanar” for countless copyrighted elements of “Star Trek.” https://t.co/nbd1vRAopT— Pierce Law Group LLP (@PierceLawGroup) January 4, 2016
[Photo by Jason Kirk/Getty Images]