Star Trek Fan Film

Ever since the dawn of YouTube, fan films have become a much more popular outlet of expression for not just the fans who make them, but also those who watch them. These films allow fans to see some of the things they’ve wanted to see happen for years that studio films will likely never give them. And most of the time, studios are absolutely fine with these kind of creations. But when it comes to a new crowdfunded Star Trek fan film, CBS and Paramount Pictures are not happy.

A project called Axanar has raised over $1 million in crowdfunding by way of Kickstarter and Indigogo, and producer Alec Peters has his sights set on making a studio-quality Star Trek fan film. But CBS and Paramount have now filed a lawsuit to stop the production of this film, claiming it violates the rights of their intellectual property. Find out more below!

First of all, for those who don’t know, Axanar is a prequel story that takes place 21 years before the events of “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” the first Captain Kirk episode of the original Star Trek television series. The film aims to tell the story of Garth of Izar, a legendary Starfleet captain who Captain Kirk admires as a hero.

For those who aren’t hardcore Trekkies, Garth appeared in a third season episode of the original series called “Whom Gods Destroy.” Kirk called him the role model for all future Starfleet officers, as a man who has charted more planets than any other captain and was the hero at the Battle of Axanar (which every Academy student learns about). Axanar tells the story of how Garth and his crew fought in the Four Years War with the Klingon Empire, a battle that almost tore the Federation apart.

So it’s clear that this is a fan film with direct ties to the Star Trek universe, and that seems to be the core of the lawsuit from CBS and Paramount. If you want to dive into all the legal mumbo jumbo, the full complaint that was filed can be found right here. But the most important part from THR says:

The Axanar Works infringe Plaintiffs’ works by using innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes.

It seems to be the scale of the project that has CBS and Paramount concerned about their rights, as Axanar is essentially going where no Star Trek fan film has gone before. After all, the pitch to get money for the project said that Axanar will have industry professionals working on the production, some of whom have even worked on official Star Trek projects. And if you check out this scene from the movie, you’ll see the quality isn’t bad at all:

What’s strange about this lawsuit is that Peters already met with CBS to make sure he wouldn’t be infringing upon their rights. Back in August, just after the project met its crowdfunding goal, Peters explained to The Wrap that he met with CBS, but they didn’t offer much in the way of proper guidance as far as how to avoid a lawsuit. All the network said was that they couldn’t make any money off the project. But when the trade reached out to CBS for comment about Axanar, they got this response:

CBS has not authorized, sanctioned or licensed this project in any way, and this has been communicated to those involved. We continue to object to professional commercial ventures trading off our property rights and are considering further options to protect these rights.

Paramount didn’t have anything to say on the matter, but since they’re with CBS on this lawsuit, it’s pretty clear where they stand.

This seems like such a strange move for a studio to make, but again, perhaps the size and scope of the production is what has the network and studio worried. Maybe they think that with that much money, they’re opening the floodgates for more professional fan films to be made and infringe upon their rights, or more importantly, their box office appeal.

But for years, fan films have been welcomed by networks and studios, simply because they add more attention to the properties on which they are based. Perhaps we’re reaching a breaking point where fan films are starting to become too much like professional productions and studios and networks will start managing their properties a little differently.

But don’t expect Peters to give up on his passion project without a fight as he told THR:

We’ve certainly been prepared for this and we certainly will defend this lawsuit. There are a lot of issues surrounding a fan film. These fan films have been around for 30 years, and others have raised a lot of money.

However, the network and studio are just as dedicated to the cause as they also released a statement saying:

Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights, which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect.

This could be a precedent-setting lawsuit that effects just how big fan films are allowed to be before networks and studios consider them to be meddling with their intellectual property too much. We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

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