‘Star Trek: Axanar’ Ruling Could Signal Death Of Fan Film Industry

Star Trek: Axanar filmmakers received some bad news this week when a judge ruled their film does not count as fair use, thus setting up a copyright trial that could bury the fan film industry once and for all.

The Star Trek franchise has long been known for its vibrant and enthusiastic community of fan filmmakers eager to experiment with Gene Roddenberry’s classic creation.

While Roddenberry himself was protective of his characters, he at the very least tolerated the community of die-hard fans that rallied around his franchise, and some even felt it was a source of pride since fan films were essentially an extension of the letter-writing campaign that saved his 1960s series after the network decided to cancel following the second season.

The drive to keep Star Trek on the air won Roddenberry a third and final season and ensured a film future with the original crew a decade later.

That led to the even more popular spinoff series Star Trek: The Next Generation and a number of other spinoffs including Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.

Roddenberry, however, died in 1991, leaving CBS and Paramount to make decisions on how fan films should be handled moving forward.

When the original crew was brought back to life with a younger cast for the big-budget 2009 reboot, the companies took a harder line on what was and wasn’t allowed to exist in and around the Star Trek Universe.

Enter Star Trek: Axanar, the feature film extension of a 2014 fan film called Prelude to Axanar, which rallied so much support from its crowdfunding campaign that a $10,000 targeted budget quickly turned into $100,000.

Prelude wrapped at 21 minutes in length setting the stage for the longform version; but that’s when Paramount and CBS decided that enough was enough.

On Jan. 5, Ars Technica reports, U.S. District Judge Robert G. Klausner “rejected the motion for summary judgment filed by the plaintiffs, Paramount and CBS” but also rejected Axanar Productions’ motion that their film constituted fair use.

CBS and Paramount started moving into litigation as the support fans had shown for Prelude built to a fever pitch, resulting in $1.1 million in crowdsourced funds.

The filmmakers were expecting to use the money to improve production values, attracting a cadre of insider talent from within the film industry both in front of and behind the camera.

No profits would have been taken from the film, so given the rich history of allowed fan films — several “new episodes” exist of the original series thanks to detail-oriented fans — Axanar Productions did not expect Paramount and CBS would suddenly care enough about their film to pursue legal action.

They were wrong.

The case is now set to go to trial on Jan. 31, and according to Crowdfund Insider, it looks good from neither a trial or appeal level considering the appeals court’s history of favoring artists’ rights.

With Paramount and CBS the rights holders on Star Trek, they are essentially acting as surrogates for the Roddenberry estate, regardless of what Gene Roddenberry would have wanted on this particular case.

The fan film community is shaken by the implications of any ruling against Star Trek: Axanar, because it will essentially put every attempt — no matter the size of production — on the chopping block. By extension, it has been called a “fan-hating” move by Paramount and CBS, which has struggled to convert their current Star Trek Universe into success.

(The last film, Star Trek Beyond, failed to earn back its money at the box office, according to Box Office Mojo.)

What do you think, readers?

Are CBS and Paramount wise to pursue action against Axanar Productions for the fan film? Will it mean the end of the fan film community? And is Star Trek as a franchise on borrowed time? Sound off in the comments section below.

[Featured Image by Axanar Productions]