Star Trek Fan Film Maker Didn't Know He Was Being Sued Until He Read the News

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Star Trek Fan Film Maker Didn't Know He Was Being Sued Until He Read the News

The producers of an upcoming Star Trek fan film only realized they were being sued when they read a news article about it.

Production is just about to begin on Axanar, the crowd-funded fan film set in the Star Trek universe. The crew had everything they needed: the production costs were covered, actors were signed, and stars were offering their support and blessing. Most importantly, according to the film's producers, they had the permission of Star Trek's license holders.

Or so they thought.

The project has been public for more than a year, and producer Alec Peters (who himself has previously worked on "legitimate" Star Trek productions) says he's been in contact with CBS for all that time, thinking his project was good to go. He continued thinking this right until he read the news one morning to discover he was being sued.

Peters addresses the sudden turn of events on the Axanar Productions website:

"This morning, I was greeted with news that our production company, Axanar Productions and I, personally, am being sued by CBS Studios, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation for copyright infringement of Star Trek.

First of all, I was disappointed to learn about this through an article in an industry trade. For several years, I've worked with a number of people at CBS on Star Trek-related projects, and I would have hoped those personal relationships would have warranted a phone call in advance of the filing of a legal complaint. Nevertheless, I know I speak for everyone at Axanar Productions when I say it is our hope that this can be worked out in a fair and amicable manner.

Axanar is a fan film. Fan films - whether related to Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Power Rangers, Batman or any other franchise - are labors of love that keep fans engaged, entertained, and keep favorite characters alive in the hearts of fans. Like other current fan films, AXANAR entered production based on a very long history and relationship between fandom and studios. We're not doing anything new here.

Like all fan films, AXANAR is a love letter to a beloved franchise. For nearly 50 years, Star Trek's devotees have been creating new Star Trek stories to share with fellow fans. That's all we're trying to do here."

It's important to note that we don't know the entire story. Peters claims he had permission from CBS, so long as they film was not used for commercial purposes, and claims that the news item was the first he heard of the lawsuit. CBS hasn't made any comments about the situation just yet, so don't go calling anyone names until we know more.

In the meantime, enjoy the very promising 20-minute proof-of-concept by the Axanar team, and we'll have more to report about this story when there's more to tell.

Source: Axanar Productions

Permalink

Goddammit, I was looking forward to this one. This is why we can't have nice things.

Let me guess; this is related to the upcoming TV show, isn't it? The bean counters at corporate are so obsessed with their almighty "bottom line" that they'll axe anything that may conceivably eat into it...ignoring the fact that fan creations like these are essentially free publicity for them.

Yeah I know, we don't have all the facts yet, but I've seen this song and dance before many times.

I hadn't heard of this before now but that Four Years War proof of concept is just perfect. It really captures what makes Star Trek great, the interplay of politics, exploration and vast scales of intergalactic war. It brought to mind the style of a documentary about a real historical war or a major battle, like those of WW2 and they really had good actors for the roles.

The CGI was also impressive, an excellent illustration of the ships involved, even if the cities looked more than a little bit off.

All in all, I really hope this get's sorted out amicably because it's possibly one of the best things to be done with the Star Trek license in a while, and the bean counters should be milking the free publicity for all it's worth.

Maybe someday our society will evolve out of the need for lawyers or suits. That'd be even better than not needing money.

If he has it in writing, then there won't be a problem.

It seems like these guys never stopped and thought: "Are we being shitty? Is this a shitty thing to do? Will people think were being shitty?"

Xeorm:
Maybe someday our society will evolve out of the need for lawyers or suits. That'd be even better than not needing money.

Maybe reverting back to bartering is a bad idea :P

Sounds like the result of a miscommunication somewhere at CBS and Paramount.

I think these lawsuuits should become illegal for noncommercial products. Fuck franchiseholders.

There are two possible reasons. Reading the production company's annual report its clear that they are making a living from this film

Axanar:
Please note that we are a professional production and thus RUN like a professional production. That means our full time employees get paid. Not much honestly, but everyone has bills to pay and if you work full time for Axanar, you get paid.

The second appears in the comments section

Axanar:
Jedman67 says:
July 8, 2015 at 1:19 pm
I'm curious, what are some avenues where you can legally earn some revenue (without infringing on licensing issues)?
Are you able to rent out the sets to another production when you?re not using them, or as was mentioned previously; conducting film school classes?
I enjoy reading your blogs and although I?m a big supporter of the Axanar production (Prelude was amazing!) I?m not financially in a position to donate.
Terry McIntosh says:
July 8, 2015 at 1:27 pm
To answer your questions:
Axanar, and all indie Trek and fan films, operate under common sense and strict rules laid down by CBS ? the owners of Star Trek ? for what efforts such as ours can and cannot do. We cannot profit from their intellectual property, meaning we can?t sell merchandise that bears their marks, but we can, for example, offer things like discs of the film(s) as thank you perks for a kind donation to the production. Some might consider that a technicality, or clever wording, but that is what CBS has said that we all need to do and that?s what we do without question. They allow us to play in their awesome sand box, within reason, and we respect their wishes and property in all things.
Regarding renting out the sets or studio space, absolutely. In fact we?re actively going to be doing that and the reason for that is the lease for the studio is not cheap and by doing so we can bring in funds that will (hopefully in full, but certainly in part) pay for that expense. It?s financially prudent, it?s a benefit to the Star Trek indie and fan film community, and it?s allowed by CBS in whatever way that they might have a say in such a more private thing.
Thanks for your thoughtful questions and I hope that this info has helped.
Best,
Terry
Jedman67 says:
July 8, 2015 at 1:34 pm
Thanks for the quick response, Terry! To clarify, CBS will let you rent out standing sets that are clearly star-trek based (i.e. bridge or transporter room)?
:)
Terry McIntosh says:
July 9, 2015 at 12:29 pm
CBS really doesn't have a say in the matter. We can film anything that we want to in our studio and on our sets. All that matters is how the end result would be released, because that surely would fall under the rules that CBS has in place for all fan films and indie Trek to operate under. But, with that said, I could do a puppet show on the bridge set, call it ?Grand Space Wagon Train Adventure of Awesome!?, sell it, and it would be what it is since it's not Star Trek. =P

Axanar appear to think renting identifiable star trek sets isn't commercial activity and strongly suspect that CBS's lawyers see things differently

From http://www.axanarproductions.com/axanar-annual-report/

Rastrelly:
I think these lawsuuits should become illegal for noncommercial products. Fuck franchiseholders.

isnt the problem that the movie basicly isnt nonprofit? it did a kikstarter and people earn money making the movie, ergo, not a nonprofit.
i can understand that there are legalproblems with such a movie, as stupid as it is

I half wonder if this is because they are afraid its going to be better liked then their next movie and tv show.
Maybe they want to avoid being humiliated?

Well no more than they did with the JJ films.

So this sadly happens all the time, the legal department gets paid to unilaterally attack anything and everything. I think its done so much they are given zero leash from the higher ups. So it likely wasnt cbs or paramount in the way you think of it. It was some legal attack dog. Think of it like meter maids.

Basically for these really large IP owners if they required the legal group to notify and get consent from them every time they went after something then it would become as obnoxious for the IP owners as it is for us and that would be terrible*sarcasm*.

This happened very recently in gaming I forget the company, they were do a fan expansion remake whatever and got a bunch of scary notices in this exact same vein. They had to get one of the IP owners to go tell the legal department to shut up. I forget who it was he even put out a statement apologizing and stating they fully supported the project and it was just the legal people jumping the gun.

Hopefully This is what were seeing now and he'll get his contact at CBS to go put the lawyers back on their leashes.

syl3r:

Rastrelly:
I think these lawsuuits should become illegal for noncommercial products. Fuck franchiseholders.

isnt the problem that the movie basicly isnt nonprofit? it did a kikstarter and people earn money making the movie, ergo, not a nonprofit.
i can understand that there are legalproblems with such a movie, as stupid as it is

People are getting paid for their participation in project (that's what Kickstarter was needed for), yes, but the project itself is supposed to be non-profit.

It certainly is sad that a promising fan production is shut down. Unfortunately it's their right to do that, the sad thing is that apparently the media is informed about it before the fan production was even contacted.

PS: I once read something about the copyright holder having to step in to productions like that, something about creating problems about protecting their copyright in future copyright infringements, if they don't step in. But I'm not sure about that, maybe someone else here knows more about it.

Renegade-pizza:
It seems like these guys never stopped and thought: "Are we being shitty? Is this a shitty thing to do? Will people think were being shitty?"

I'm sure there was someone at a meeting who said that very line. Then the person above him said "That's a very good question, Bob. But it's ok, because I just called down to the warehouse and confirmed that we're actually all out of fucks to give at the moment." :P

One of three things happened here, in order of likeliness:

1) Trigger-happy lawyers who don't keep in contact with their own employers.
2) The contacts did not communicate with the lawyers or upper management.
3) This group of people got baited into a lawsuit for a quick profit.

Either way, this is why you get stuff in writing.

Neverhoodian:
Goddammit, I was looking forward to this one. This is why we can't have nice things.

Let me guess; this is related to the upcoming TV show, isn't it? The bean counters at corporate are so obsessed with their almighty "bottom line" that they'll axe anything that may conceivably eat into it...ignoring the fact that fan creations like these are essentially free publicity for them.

Yeah I know, we don't have all the facts yet, but I've seen this song and dance before many times.

I'm not so much bugged by the notion that the people who run Star Trek want to protect it, but the guy claims he was in contact with CBS the entire time. If that's true, it's utter crap.

syl3r:

isnt the problem that the movie basicly isnt nonprofit? it did a kikstarter and people earn money making the movie, ergo, not a nonprofit.
i can understand that there are legalproblems with such a movie, as stupid as it is

Rastrelly:

People are getting paid for their participation in project (that's what Kickstarter was needed for), yes, but the project itself is supposed to be non-profit.

The appropriate term here is non-commercial. They're not selling anything that uses any Paramount/CBS IP. Or they say they aren't. I don't know that that's true, but it's what they say.

Of course, being non-commercial in itself doesn't shield you from copyright/trademark claims. That's still where the CBS thing comes in. They said in their KS they'd been working with CBS and the response here says so as well, that as far as they knew they were operating with CBS' blessing. Any fan film can be shut down, but if this had the blessing of the rights owners then they would have every reasonable expectation that they could complete it unmolested.

Something Amyss:

The appropriate term here is non-commercial. They're not selling anything that uses any Paramount/CBS IP. Or they say they aren't. I don't know that that's true, but it's what they say.

Of course, being non-commercial in itself doesn't shield you from copyright/trademark claims. That's still where the CBS thing comes in. They said in their KS they'd been working with CBS and the response here says so as well, that as far as they knew they were operating with CBS' blessing. Any fan film can be shut down, but if this had the blessing of the rights owners then they would have every reasonable expectation that they could complete it unmolested.

They have admitted that they planned to rent out the sets

Axanar:

CBS really doesn't have a say in the matter. We can film anything that we want to in our studio and on our sets. All that matters is how the end result would be released, because that surely would fall under the rules that CBS has in place for all fan films and indie Trek to operate under. But, with that said, I could do a puppet show on the bridge set, call it ?Grand Space Wagon Train Adventure of Awesome!?, sell it, and it would be what it is since it's not Star Trek. =P

My guess is that they are in violation of their terms of license. Axanar's interpretation of the law is questionable at best and renting out the sets is clearly open to the interpretation as commercial activity.

albino boo:

They have admitted that they planned to rent out the sets

Which doesn't contradict anything I said.

And, in fact, what you quoted would go against what you said.

Something Amyss:

albino boo:

They have admitted that they planned to rent out the sets

Which doesn't contradict anything I said.

And, in fact, what you quoted would go against what you said.

What I quoted proves that Axanar doesn't know anything about the law regarding IPs. If you are using licensed branding and then rent the space to a 3rd party thats commercial activity and a violation of the license.

Silentpony:
If he has it in writing, then there won't be a problem.

Doesn't mean anything if the writ saying he has permission didn't come from CBS's lawyers.

albino boo:

Something Amyss:

albino boo:

They have admitted that they planned to rent out the sets

Which doesn't contradict anything I said.

And, in fact, what you quoted would go against what you said.

What I quoted proves that Axanar doesn't know anything about the law regarding IPs. If you are using licensed branding and then rent the space to a 3rd party thats commercial activity and a violation of the license.

Non-profits still need to make money to actually fund their operations.

I think the problem here is that the people who are making Axanar have used the money to creat a film studio that they will use to make money in the future. They might not be making any money from Axanar itself but they have essensaly used the Star Trek IP to get startup money for their own studio. Anything they make afeter Axanar, that made them money could be considered profit from Axanar as it is because of Axanar they had the money for the studio in the first place. I imagine that is what has made this lawsuit happen.

Well, that's sad. I never heard of this fan film, but considering how the theatrical films look to be taking a nose-dive, I'd rather see this one reach the fans. Sometimes, someone from outside the loop (or in cases like this, previously in the loop) has a better idea (and is willing to continue the IP when the holder shelves it)[1] that can add to the lore of the IP and its history.

More importantly, I hope, for the sake of other fan works, the filmmakers were following the law as close as they could and this is just the result of another loose cannon legal department firing off C&Ds and other legal threats more often than they change socks. I would hate for this lawsuit, should it reach the courts, give more ammo to uncaring megacorps.

Edit: I forgot to mention this : It is pretty fishy that the producer only learned about the suit against him in the news. Either it's a publicity stunt on someone's end, or there is more to this argument than one recently filed lawsuit (or someone was enjoying the end of the year festivities a little too much to read some emails).
[1] *cough*Chrono Trigger*cough*

piscian:
This happened very recently in gaming I forget the company, they were do a fan expansion remake whatever and got a bunch of scary notices in this exact same vein. They had to get one of the IP owners to go tell the legal department to shut up. I forget who it was he even put out a statement apologizing and stating they fully supported the project and it was just the legal people jumping the gun.

Not sure if this is the one, but that did happen to Streets of Rage Remake, just as Bomber Games was releasing their final version. Sega didn't apologize, but SoRRv5 was briefly released to the net.

Don't you US types have some rules about protecting IP/license whether you want to or not?

Even if that's not the case, isn't CBS making a new show? This fan-work would be a conflict of interest for them, if they have a similar release date.

It's a crying shame... the prelude was more enjoyable than the last two movies, by far.

Barbas:
Sounds like the result of a miscommunication somewhere at CBS and Paramount.

Such things do happen, especially in giant corporations with endless layers of bureaucracy. It may take some time to resolve now too, and we shouldn't assume it well end badly because it began badly.

I dunno. A lot of this doesn't make sense to me, which usually means there's information that the public is missing... but I doubt people are going to be illogical and jump to insane conclusions and piss all over other people, right?

*looks up at thread*

*heavy sigh*

Star Trek is apparently one of those IPs you don't mess with, they will come down on you hard, like GW.[1] Not the first time I've heard of them shutting down fans, and a fan film is a bit bigger than most.

[1] If you call something a Blank Space Marine, could you be sued by GW and Taylor Swift at the same time?

albino boo:
If you are using licensed branding and then rent the space to a 3rd party thats commercial activity and a violation of the license.

Assuming the set in question contains any applicable marks. If that's the case, then you did not make it with that quote. The briudge in and of itself is not such a case.Hell, Trek's used recycled sets before and had their sets recycled before. Your claim was a non-sequitur.

Smilomaniac:
Don't you US types have some rules about protecting IP/license whether you want to or not?

Yeah, but those rules apply to trademarks. Companies have to defend their trademarks to the point they seem like pompous asses, otherwise they risk a court decision someday voiding the trademark due to it being "genericized." They can't lose copyrights that way here. Although, legal precedents have a chance to weaken their power, which is why many companies are so sue happy (and like to convince (ie offer extra campaigning funds to) politicians to increase the copyright duration to extreme levels).

thaluikhain:
Star Trek is apparently one of those IPs you don't mess with, they will come down on you hard, like GW.[1] Not the first time I've heard of them shutting down fans, and a fan film is a bit bigger than most.

I thought CBS was mostly friendly with ST fan works. But I get that leadership (and therefore the company's overall stance on the subject) can change over time.

Funny you should mention GW, though. They actually did greenlight a fan film in Germany, but changed their mind at the last minute because Germany IP law would require them to make WH40K public domain in Germany. (I'm now convinced IP law is screwed up everywhere on this planet.) It still leaked online, to the joy of fans and anyone who spent time and money on it.

[1] If you call something a Blank Space Marine, could you be sued by GW and Taylor Swift at the same time?

Hairless Mammoth:
Funny you should mention GW, though. They actually did greenlight a fan film in Germany, but changed their mind at the last minute because Germany IP law would require them to make WH40K public domain in Germany. (I'm now convinced IP law is screwed up everywhere on this planet.) It still leaked online, to the joy of fans and anyone who spent time and money on it.

Oh, that was why that happened, I'd not known that.

syl3r:

Rastrelly:
I think these lawsuuits should become illegal for noncommercial products. Fuck franchiseholders.

isnt the problem that the movie basicly isnt nonprofit? it did a kikstarter and people earn money making the movie, ergo, not a nonprofit.
i can understand that there are legalproblems with such a movie, as stupid as it is

Hmm I wonder. Where I am from (belgium) a non-profit organization can make a profit and they wont get taxed on that profit. They can pay their employees a wage (does not matter how high or low). There are a few limitations.
1) all profits need to be reinvested into the company. You can even pay out bonusses but those bonusses get taxed (60%).
2) your company can not go public (obviously)
3) it has to be a "good" cause. Which is admittedly a vague definition.

I think what they mean in the OT case is that you can not make a profit off the intellectual property. I.e you can not sell the movie you are making. You can pay your actors a honest wage. The company producing the movie can not make a profit. The actors most certainly can get paid however. Money out of your pocket...

Barbas:
Sounds like the result of a miscommunication somewhere at CBS and Paramount.

Things like this usually are. But I still can't help but feel someone at the studio was offended that a fan film was getting better support, and praise, than the Nu-Trek reboots.

Hairless Mammoth:

Funny you should mention GW, though. They actually did greenlight a fan film in Germany, but changed their mind at the last minute because Germany IP law would require them to make WH40K public domain in Germany. (I'm now convinced IP law is screwed up everywhere on this planet.) It still leaked online, to the joy of fans and anyone who spent time and money on it.

To be fair they did not seek damages after the "leak" and did not go after anyone distributing the movie to shut it down.

The fact they did not give a standard Cease and desist notice was kinda telling as well(they just refused to let a public showing), that they did not want to do it. So they just did the bare minimum to cover there ass.

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