Paramount Apparently Going To Drop Lawsuit Against Axanar Fan Film, Produce 'Guidelines' For Fan Films

from the better-than-the-alternative dept

Since December, we’ve been following the ridiculous Paramount/CBS lawsuit over a big crowdfunded Star Trek fan film called Axanar. While it is true that by raising over a million dollars on Kickstarter, and getting a professional team and actors behind it that Axanar started to blur the lines between a traditional fan film and a full-on professional production, it still seemed like a ridiculous and anti-fan move to sue. To some extent, it highlighted yet another problem with today’s copyright laws, which are woefully unprepared for the fact that the equipment is cheap enough and available enough for “amateur” work to be really, really good.

We’d been covering the case, including the ridiculous overclaiming of copyrights by Paramount/CBS (including claiming a copyright over the Klingon language and “uniforms with gold stars.”) Things had just been starting to heat up and the judge was gearing up for a trial… when famed producer/director JJ Abrams announced at a fan event for the next film that the lawsuit was going away.

The folks at Treknews have a video of JJ’s statement:

In case you can’t watch or listen to that, JJ Abrams is on stage with Justin Lin (director of the new Star Trek Beyond) and professional Mythbuster Adam Savage and explains that he and Lin were really bothered by the lawsuit and what it meant for fandom, and urged Paramount to settle:

?A few months back there was a fan movie, Axanar, that was getting made and there was this lawsuit that happened between the studio and these fans and Justin, I?ll tell the story because he probably wouldn?t, was sort of outraged by this as a long time fan. We started talking about it and realized this was not an appropriate way to deal with the fans.

The fans should be celebrating this thing, like you’re saying now. We all… Fans of Star Trek are part of this world. So you [Justin] went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced this is going away, and fans would be able to continue working on their project?

For what it’s worth, the deal is not yet final. Alec Peters, the producer of the Axanar film has said that he wasn’t expecting this and wasn’t entirely sure what it meant — but was “frantically texting” with his lawyers. He also says he’s promised to name his first kid after Justin Lin, which, of course, now that it’s on Twitter must be the same as a binding contract, right?

On the Paramount side, the studio told Buzzfeed’s Adam Vary that it’s true they’re “in settlement discussions” but also that they’re “working on a set of fan film guidelines.”

This seems like a very good result for all involved, assuming the details get worked out. It also shows that there are solutions that don’t need to involve lawsuits (and perhaps Paramount would have been smarter to have gone down this road first rather than this far into the lawsuit).

Similarly, it’s a good thing that Paramount will be releasing fan film guidelines (and it would be great to see others do the same) but the details here will matter. If it’s making it easier for people to make fan films, even to the point of granting licenses to allow people to do things without fear of a lawsuit, that would be really great. But what restrictions there are on all of this should be worth watching closely — especially if the guidelines suggest that fair use is not allowed or still include overclaiming of copyright. I’m actually reminded of the story from a few months ago about the Fine Bros. trying to freely license some of their stuff, which was doomed by the horrible way it was rolled out, along with the Fine Bros.’ history of aggressive complaints against anyone doing marginally similar stuff. But at that time, I noted that if, say, Lucasfilm had opened up its assets to fan film makers to create fan films with a free license, with just a promise to share back a small percentage of revenue, that would be quite cool.

So, now Star Trek will be getting some sort of official rules for fan films — and I’m guessing that they’ll restrict any and all commercial releases (which, frankly, is silly). And those details will matter quite a lot. But ending this lawsuit and letting the film continue is absolutely the right move — so kudos to Justin Lin and JJ Abrams for telling the studio that… and to Paramount for actually listening.

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Comments on “Paramount Apparently Going To Drop Lawsuit Against Axanar Fan Film, Produce 'Guidelines' For Fan Films”

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Quiet Lurcker says:

Why can't studios nurture this?

So the studios work out a plan. They provide guidance to keep within canon to any amateur film-maker for a small, flat fee. For a different (larger) fee, the studio helps with clearances.

The amateur film-maker then gets to announce their film is ‘sanctioned by $STUDIO’ or something to that effect. So long as they don’t distribute commercially, the studio gets no money off the deal. Effectively, a free, compulsory license augmented granted with fees paid to the studio for certain help.

If the film gets distributed commercially, then the studio gets a statutorily defined cut of the revenue.

Going the commercial route, then, the studio gets a free film with their name on it and money coming in for effectively doing nothing but paper pushing. Who could complain at a deal like that?

Mark says:

Hollywood Accounting

Pulling this quote out of context.

just a promise to share back a small percentage of revenue,

I wonder if these fan films will be end up pulling a Hollywood accounting and never showing a profit and thus never sending any money back to the studio.

If they complain about that, would it end up shining an even brighter light on their one shady methods, which shows the original Star Wars as not having turned a profit.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Someday these studios are going to figure out they can make more money licensing their stuff out to fans than they can making their own official product. Shift the cost of production out to amateur third parties and collect a percentage of the revenue. Anything that turns out decent they can purchase and release as “official” – the holy grail for fan creators.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just like every other website I’ve seen this reported on, even Techdirt has gotten pulled into this scam news.

JJ Abrams is talking out of his ass because he has no influence on what Paramount wants to do. JJ Abrams does not own the rights to “Star Trek”. he’s only a movie producer. Even if Paramount does currently drop the copyright lawuit, they will wait until after the film is completed and then move to block its release and demand that all copies of the film be turned over to Paramount.

Creating a fan film is one thing but making money on it (generating income from it) is not covered by fair use.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

JJ Abrams is talking out of his ass because he has no influence on what Paramount wants to do.

He wasn’t saying that he was doing it. He was saying that he and Lin urged Paramount to figure something out… and that Parmaount had then worked out a settlement.

Paramount has since confirmed it.

Even if Paramount does currently drop the copyright lawuit, they will wait until after the film is completed and then move to block its release and demand that all copies of the film be turned over to Paramount.

Again, Paramount has confirmed that they are completing a settlement agreement. That’s IN THIS POST which apparently you didn’t read.

Creating a fan film is one thing but making money on it (generating income from it) is not covered by fair use.

That’s not necessarily true, but thanks for playing.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Axanar was trying to capture the ideas of what Star Trek is about.
But Paramount was trying to argue that Axanar was trying to do more than just “capture the ideas”: they claimed that Axanar was trying to position itself as official, canon Star Trek.

That’s why there was the whole argument over terms like “red shirt”, “warp drive”, “transporter”, Klingon, etc. Sure, Paramount can’t own these individual concepts, but when all of them are put together, they form what fans recognize as Star Trek.

The Axanar people could have taken the “50 Shades of Grey” approach and changed all the names so it would be Star Trek in spirit, but without using any of the specific names.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

But this is where we get to the real meat of the issue: the notion of the idea/expression dichotomy. It’s a great concept in theory, but really it’s so vague and subjective as to be almost meaningless.

At one end of the scale, you could say: the “expression” is the exact, fixed, fully completed work. Everything else is an idea. Anything less than simply copying a Star Trek script word for word is not infringing, because it’s just using the idea not the expression itself.

At the other end of the scale, you could say: the “expression” is everything beyond the vaguest of feelings that underpins the property. You can set something in space with spaceships, but anything more specific than that begins to infringe on the specific “expression” of that idea that is copyrighted Star Trek.

The reality is, I suppose, somewhere in between – but there’s no consistent line to be drawn and no easy set of criteria to consider. Personally I’d argue that we should err towards the former in all cases. Others would argue the opposite (and be wrong, IMO).

Like consider these different things:

– I make a show that is completely unique from Star Trek, with 100% original stories. It’s not even focused on space travel or galactic politics or any of that – but it stars Captain James Kirk from the United Federation of Planets. But he’s totally different, and it’s actually an earthbound love story that doesn’t feel like Star Trek at all.

– I make a show that is exactly a Star Trek story in every way, and in spirit it is 100% Star Trek, but it’s all unique characters and planets and names of my own. Change the details and it would fit right into the original series, maybe it’s even a direct ripoff of a famous episode, but absolutely none of the specifics are the same.

Which one is “more” infringing? Which one violates the idea, and which one the expression?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

(This might all sound esoteric, but it’s all extremely relevant. A good example is the unauthorized Catcher In The Rye sequel from a couple years ago. It was a completely unique story, the character was never explicitly named as Holden Caulfield, and it re-used absolutely no material from the original book. But it did rely on people understanding that the narrator was Holden, and it was fully intended to further explore that character and story. So… is that infringing on the idea? the expression? both? Is Holden Caulfield an “idea” or a specific “expression”? Is the answer to that dependent on whether he is named?)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And this is exactly what Fifty Shades of Grey did. 50 shades was a Twilight fan-fic. But the author just changed the names and removed the references to him being a vampire (which the author didn’t even really need to do for copyright reasons because there’s no owning the idea of vampires, I think it was done more to make appeal to a wider audience) and generated a bunch of income from it.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Re:

Actually Fair Use clearly protects parodies a la Scary Movie, Young Frankenstein, Fifty Shades of Black, etc. If they wanted to make a “Star Trek” then they are free to do so. Star Trek out of the question, but “Star Trek” a parody or spin off is clearly allowed.

“”Axanar” is the story of Garth of Izar & the Battle of Axanar, a pivotal event in the history of the Federation.”
Not exactly Star Trek.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

well... that happened

This obviously reaches far beyond Star Trek, there has been … a few other rather high profile (or at least not completely swept under the rug) cases of stuff like this happening (I am looking at YOU Hasbro!)

but all in all… I think it’s good that there is “some” solution striking between fandoms and official releases. But as has been said, we need to hear the details first.

On a tangent… I would contend that anything not explicitly created by Gene Roddenberry (as in he having his hands on it directly) is inherently fan made.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Fan Star Trek

TOS featured a lot of writers who were not Gene Roddenberry, which lead to quite a bit of inconsistency.

Indeed, Roddenberry imagined a future in which we had long since gotten over our Puritan sexual hang-ups (A common theme in 50s and 60s sci-fi), but the 60s writers weren’t comfortable with that (Nor were the 80s – 90s writers of TNG) and TOS and TNG ended up only emphasizing how insecure we are.

Star Trek gained a lot — as with most creative works — standing on the shoulders of giants.

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