CBS Sues Over Star Trek Fan Film Because It Sounds Like It's Going To Be Pretty Good

from the set-phasers-on-dumb dept

When it comes to passionate fan-bases, it’s kind of hard to match Star Trek fans. This is a group of fans that fuel much of the cosplaying and fan-creating that goes on to this day. CBS, owners of the Star Trek copyrights, has had something of a complicated relationship with these fans, flip-flopping between allowing this community to foster a wider appreciation of the franchise while occasionally clamping down on them. In the past, it has seemed clear that CBS’ chief criteria for deciding when to go legal on fan-made works boils down to two factors: is there money involved and just how professional is the fan-creation going to be?

That trend appears to be ongoing, with the news that, once again, CBS is shutting down a fan-made Star Trek work, which thought it enjoyed the network’s support, after it was clear that the fan-movie was probably going to be good.

Axanar, the subject of a lawsuit filed on Friday in California federal court, is no ordinary Star Trek film. The forthcoming feature film (preceded by a short film) is the source of more than $1 million in crowdfunding on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The producers led by Alec Peters aim to make a studio-quality film. As the pitch to investors put it, “While some may call it a ‘fan film’ as we are not licensed by CBS, Axanar has professionals working in front and behind the camera, with a fully-professional crew–many of whom have worked on Star Trek itself–who ensure Axanar will be the quality of Star Trek that all fans want to see.”

By August, Peters was giving interviews expressing confidence that the project would survive any legal heat. He spoke to The Wrap that month and reported having a meeting with CBS. He says he was told the film couldn’t make money — and evidently, he took that to be a good sign. “CBS has a long history of accepting fan films,” Peters told the entertainment site. “I think Axanar has become so popular that CBS realizes that we’re just making their brand that much better.”

Unfortunately, the lawyers over at CBS apparently don’t see it that way. CBS is asking for an injunction on the film and damages for copyright infringement. This flies in the face of all of the amateur Star Trek films and shows that have been allowed to exist. The primary differentiation here certainly seems to be one of quality, with those working on the film touting their experience and know-how.

But why should that matter to CBS? To be clear, CBS is within its rights to shut this down, but given that it has seen value, or at least a lack of harm, in allowing other fan-made works to exist, why should a quality fan-made film suddenly be a threat? If anything, as Peters noted, allowing fans to grow the universe, to participate in its creation and foster new and deeper fandom should only benefit the Star Trek franchise. Upping the quality of that creation would, it seems, benefit the franchise even more.

Instead, this comes off as another ham-fisted smackdown of a fan-created film that, given the support it received, was something Trek fans were looking forward to.

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Companies: cbs, paramount

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Comments on “CBS Sues Over Star Trek Fan Film Because It Sounds Like It's Going To Be Pretty Good”

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w says:

A MAFIAA member-company strikes again in their quest to replace fan enthusiasm of a copyrighted work with fear of life-ruining litigation if they don’t stop.

Copyright law should be changed to empower users to create fan works. This needs to be a right held by fan-creators rather than one arbitrarily bestowed and withdrawn from them at the whims of parasitic copyright lawyers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This needs to be a right held by fan-creators

No offensive, your heart in the right place but, this needs to be a “right” held by no one. While no the norm, there are a number of fan, that in their own capacity, are just like CBS in the way they treat other fans who use and remix there information in the same way they did the root artwork in violation of other people’s monopoly privileges.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just Some Tweaks

Just change the story to be about a BDSM-obsessed star-ship captain who roams the galaxy looking for alien lady friends who might be interested in using his dilithium nipple-clamps.

Every time a green-skinned lady arrives, sweaty and exhausted, she’s met by the pointy-eared first mate, who tips his fedora and says, “Welcome aboard, M’lady.”

Sixty Shades of Shit, in Space.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

ha ha ha!

He with the most money wins… “promissory estoppel” like most other things only works when you have two things.

1. The money to fight for it.
2. The judge is in your pocket in some form or fashion.

A lot of contracts are now written with so much tap dancing that there are tons of way to argue out of them or muddy the logical waters enough to get a Judge or Jury to foolishly agree!

John85851 (profile) says:

A case of quality

I think the real issue is that CBS or Paramount is seeing that good quality Star Trek projects can be made for $1 million, and which fans will love.
Compare this to the beating CBS and Paramount took from fans over the Fast and Furious style trailer for “Star Trek Beyond”. Even Simon Pegg (the writer) and Justin Lin (the director) complained that the “Beyond” trailer wasn’t what didn’t reflect the movie they made, yet it’s what the Paramount marketing people released.

So if Paramount can’t win over fans with a new Star Trek movie, then they’ll do the next best thing: make sure no one else can make Star Trek movies.

Dave (profile) says:

Just a thought

I know the creators of this project set it up as a fan film, but if this were my project, instead of fighting CBS on this, I might take this money, hire a lawyer, re-write the script to remove the Trek elements but keeping the basic themes in the story, and create something that actually could make money.

Who knows? Maybe it’ll create a new universe that sci-fi fans might enjoy as much as Trek. It’s not like there’s a copyright on the concept of space combat.

Not only would it get the film made that s many people kickstarted, but it’s as good a middle finger to flip at CBS as anything else, no?

Anonymous Coward says:

My take on it...

CBS is informed of a dedicated and passionate fan base that banded together to make a ‘fan film’. Their response – Meh, just a fan film, what’s it going to be on, 8mm? Nothing to worry about.

After learning that said group of fans raised one million plus on Kickstarter, made a very slick and professional 20 minute promo with pretty good effects, didn’t contribute one cent or even one idea to the creative process, they wait until post production is nearing completion to bring this suit so they can get their ‘cut’.

Honestly it sounds like CBS is just desperate.

TJGeezer (profile) says:

Re: My take on it...

“Honestly it sounds like CBS is just desperate.”

Not desperate, just corporate-greedy and acting according to its parasitic nature. Reminds me of the mafia don on Staten Island who reportedly complained that a successful restaurant hadn’t even offered to give him his unearned cut. Never heard if the restaurant burned down later, but the similarities to CBS are kinda eerie.

Daryl R. (profile) says:

Re: Brand management

The Timing is important for a number of reasons:

It happened at the end of the year. Which a lawyer would call timely and strategic.

It also happened near the end of the post production period. The show is essentially completed and the funds have I assume been essentially spent. So the production team is “Pot Committed” in Poker parlance…

IMHO, I think CBS is being a real Troll here. Hitting the production at it’s weakest point just before release.

There should be a push for a fan rally online and in front of CBS’s HO threatening to boycott further Big Budget Movies and the slated new TV Show unless CBS retracts the case and starts realizing they are giving themselves a self induced Vulcan Nerve Pinch… Ouch!

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

I’m glad that CBS put the halt to this fan film. What everyone keeps forgetting is that this isn’t no damn fan film, it’s an attempt by idiots who thought they could scam CBS by saying it’s a fan film when they generated one million dollars to produce this movie. Fan films do NOT cost one million dollars, they don’t come anywhere near that cost.

Fan films are films made by fans at their own cost. They do NOT crowd-source the cost of their fan film by generating a million dollars. Just what the HELL did these morons think would happen. I’m just surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

CBS is producing a big budget Star Trek movie. People will confuse Axanar with Star Trek Beyond and they won’t go to see the new film.

I support CBS putting a halt to this movie.

Jonathan Kivett (profile) says:

Re: kenichi tanaka

Are you “so glad?” And could a professional-level fan film not cost a million? What’s the difference between asking my friends and I to pitch in and make a film for a thousand dollars, ten thousand, a hundred thousand even?

Star Trek: Axanar is one of the best fan-produced items out there at the moment. It certainly seems to be attracting serious attention from all remaining cast members, production crew, and of course, CBS.

Star Trek exists because of it’s fans, starting with Lucille Ball, who leveraged the continuation of Star Trek (Original Series) with the sale of Desilu. To slap them across the face (more than Brannon/Bergman did during their sad tenure) is terrible marketing.

To be clear, CBS and Paramount own different portions of the franchise. Paramount is NOT suing over Axanar (as of yet). CBS has NO motive other than the money it hopes to make with it’s on-demand service rolling out in a years’ time with a new Star Trek series as it’s hub. I applaud this. Hell, I would pay fifteen dollars a month for new Trek. So would a lo tof people… which sounds a lot like crowd-sourcing, only We, the crowd, get to CHOOSE our projects. And we vote with our wallets.

As evidenced by the fan surge for this film. If you truly are “glad” this gets shut down (it won’t), then I submit you don’t have much understanding og Trek, fandom, or our evolving collaborative society.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It is more a case of CBS seeing that if this sort of effort is allowed to succeed then they become redundant. In many areas where the corporations strong suite is the ability to organize money and resources, the Internet provides the means for people to organize themselves without their services, and discover just how much cost they added to a project .

That One Guy (profile) says:

A point that should be moot

The original series aired in 1966, running three years to 1969. Before the deal of copyright was completely broken with the ‘life+’ retroactive extension, it’s entirely possible that Star Trek would have entered the public domain by now, meaning there would have been nothing to sue over.

The Copyright Act of 1790(14+14): In public domain as of 1997
Revision of the Copyright Act, 1831(28+14): In public domain as of 2011
Revision of the U.S. Copyright Act(28+28): In public domain as of 1997 without renewal, 2025 with renewal.
Revision of the U.S. Copyright Act, 1976(life+50): In public domain as of never.

Nomad of Norad says:

Re: A point that should be moot

Personally I’m of the belief that — assuming we can KILL the TPP before it gets ratified (and there’s a very good chance of that outcome) — sooner or later, Copyright duration might well start getting reduced back down the other way, and we may well ABOLISH that life+50 (and now even longer) thing.

This repeated extension to the duration of time for stuff already IN Copyright is abuse of the system and needs to stop.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: A point that should be moot

Possible, but it would be an insanely uphill battle, given how many companies really love the eternal copyright they have now.

You can be sure that they would be screeching loud enough to shatter glass about how ‘anti-creator’ the very idea of lowering copyright is, since clearly nothing at all would ever be made if someone didn’t know that anything they made would stay locked up for decades after their death.

TrekAnon says:

What Makes This Project Different?

So let me get this straight? It was okay for Trek Alumni to produce Star Trek: Renegades and Star Trek: Of Gods and Men with crowdfunded money that combined raised about the same amount of money.

It was okay for Star Trek: Phase II and Star Trek Continues, run and produced entirely by fans for fans, to crowdfund and raise for each production more money then they were asking for as well as take donations for each.

These productions, managing to cleanup and expand upon the Star Trek lore due to the blatant decline of quality the franchise has gone through in recent years with a glut of polarizing films and series, have been tolerated by CBS, and yet welcomed by the fans for fixing the huge plotholes at the end of each series.

But what makes this production different? As far as we know it was remaining non-profit. Trek Alumni such as George Takei endorsed and directed people there having them involved. Having supported several fan projects, I really want to know from CBS why this project was so dangerous while other projects were not only tolerated, but endorsed by second parties.

All I ask from CBS is consistency with treatment towards fan-projects, and given their recent lack of respect towards Star Trek with the 2009 film and Star Trek: Into Darkness, its apparent they really do not care about the fans and only want us to feed on their crap.

SirThoreth (profile) says:

Re: What Makes This Project Different?

Maybe it was the merchandising by Axanar Productions?

Axanar Productions set up a Donor Store which sold Axanar-related merchandise, including models of the ships in the movie. This was on top of the Indiegogo and Kickstarter campaigns, which raised over a million by themselves.

That seems to be a step beyond what anyone other fan production has done, and might have been the final straw for CBS and Paramount.

Anonymous Coward says:

Can’t they just say its a ‘transformative work’ because it doesn’t feature 400 million lens flares effects so beloved of the shitty reboot?

Besides, since the reboot, the original series, next generation, deep space nine, voyage and Enterprise all never existed… technically Axanar is an entirely original work with no relation to the current state of the Star Trek universe.

Anonymous Coward says:

We need more power

Scotty, we need more power, we are stuck in the copyright warp field again.

Captain, I’m givin her all she’s got, I can’t push her any harder or the intellectual property matrix will implode upon the combination of copyright, trademark, and patent issues being thrown around in the MPAA chamber.

Ahura, send out a distress call, see if anyone in this universe has anything that can overcome the evil MPAA and their dreaded copyright.

Spock, mind meld with that **AA flunky we beamed aboard and see if there is anything other than $$$ and greed in his mind.

Solo, full power to impulse rights, we have to have some right to use the things we have, see what you can do.

Jim… Dammit Kirk, I’m a doctor not a copyright lawyer, it’s not like I can implant a brain in these idiots and make them understand things they have been trained for year to ignore, it’s just not possible.

Ok people, prepare for the Kobayashi Maru again… there has to be some way to beat this unbeatable copyright…

psiuuuuuu (profile) says:

Yeah, I can see the claim, but jeez...

“Yeah whatever, that seems fine.”

Months later:

Sir, reports are in. That fan film sir, it uh…well, it’s better than our new $100M pile of dog crap we plan to shovel out next year.


Just hit it with a disruptor beam and be done with it. Aye sir.


Seriously though, watch the Prelude to Axanar video. Then loop the Beyond trailer for 20 minutes. Then just start raging/weeping/staring blankly.

No one at CBS/Paramount thought, “huh, we should maybe hire those guys. They could do all sorts of in-universe, low budget, keep the fans happy and the brand alive sort of stuff, and we all make money. Win win!”


wayout says:

“in allowing other fan-made works to exist”, this could ultimately be CBS’s undoing in court. I have read about other court cases where something similar had happened, and the plaintiff wound up losing because they had allowed prior works so to speak without challenging them…It makes the suit look arbitrary…(i.e.) they can do it, but not you…depending on the judge, that may not sit well with them.

Charles Roth (profile) says:

So DO SOMETHING already!

Thank you, TechDirt, for posting this.

Thank you, the 2 or 3 of you who offered interesting and useful analysis of what might be going on here.

The rest of you — WTF?! Did you actually DO anything besides complain?

I bought 2 shares of CBS (total cost, about $ 90 US). I then wrote an old-fashioned letter (remember those?) to EVERY SINGLE DAMNED MEMBER of the CBS board of directors, explaining why this was a stupid, stupid, business decision. And, as a share-holder, I requested a response.

To mix universes, “There is no try. There is only do, or do not.”

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