CBS & Paramount Finally Settle With Fan Film Axanar

from the took-'em-long-enough dept

A little over a year ago, we first wrote about the unfortunate situation in which CBS & Paramount had sued a group of people trying to make a fan film in the Star Trek universe, called Axanar. Beyond the basic legal questions, there was a bigger issue here. Paramount has actually been pretty good about allowing fan films. The difference with Axanar was that it was shaping up to be a really good fan film, with professional level actors, sets and staff. And that was what set off Paramount and CBS, who jointly hold the copyrights on Star Trek. The big question then is what’s the line between a fan film… and an unauthorized derivative work? This wasn’t necessarily a question in the past, but today with the ease of making films (and funding them through platforms like Kickstarter), it becomes a much bigger question.

Something of a wrench was thrown into the proceedings last May, when JJ Abrams and Justin Lin — who are involved in the official new Star Trek films — claimed on stage that they were quite upset with Paramount for going after Axanar, and claimed that they’d gotten word from the company that it was going to settle the lawsuit. Of course, in the intervening months, no settlement showed up, and the filings back and forth between the parties got more and more rancorous. Things were finally heading towards a trial in just a few days… but now a settlement has finally been reached.

Paramount Pictures Corporation, CBS Studios Inc., Axanar Productions, Inc. and Alec Peters are pleased to announce that the litigation regarding Axanar?s film Prelude to Axanar and its proposed film Axanar has been resolved. Axanar and Mr. Peters acknowledge that both films were not approved by Paramount or CBS, and that both works crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law.

That last bit is the most interesting, but not very surprising. Just before the trial, the judge in the case had ruled against Axanar, saying that they couldn’t claim fair use — which basically killed any shot they had of winning. So, with their back up against the wall, the best they could do was to come to a settlement admitting they’d gone too far and agreeing to make significant changes to the planned film:

Axanar and Mr. Peters have agreed to make substantial changes to Axanar to resolve this litigation, and have also assured the copyright holders that any future Star Trek fan films produced by Axanar or Mr. Peters will be in accordance with the ‘Guidelines for Fan Films’ distributed by CBS and Paramount in June 2016.

While not surprising, this is unfortunate on multiple levels. First, we wrote about those “Guidelines for Fan Films” when they came out: they’re awful. They basically make it close to impossible to make a decent fan film. Even worse, many of the conditions in the guidelines go directly against what’s allowed under fair use.

But the reason this is most unfortunate is this: the world will now never get to see what might have been a really good film. I know that some people like to attack Techdirt and me and claim that we’re somehow “anti-creator” or “anti-artist” but we’re not. We believe strongly in creators and enabling the best creativity possible — and this kind of lawsuit shuts that down. It directly kills off plans to produce what appeared to be really good content. That’s a cultural loss and it’s too bad. The existence of Axanar doesn’t take anything away from “real” or “authorized” Star Trek films with their huge budgets, special effects and stamp of authenticity from the studios. But thanks to this lawsuit, such creative content will no longer be made. And that’s sad.

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Companies: cbs, paramount

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Comments on “CBS & Paramount Finally Settle With Fan Film Axanar”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps they should have just funded this to be the online only offering for the CBS streaming platform since they haven’t managed to deliver the promised new Trek project, and might never at this rate.
It’s not like they are totally ignoring fan feedback about the ‘offical’ thing & just expect to churn out crap slap the Trek label on it and rake in the cash…. oh wait.

They haven’t been able to deliver anything the fan base really got behind, but still managed to make money so once again the idea of ignoring the fanbase who generate income if they make a good product or a shit one means more of the lens flare spectaculars.

You cultivate a fanbase by catering to the established base so they bring more people into the fandom. We don’t expect it will always be like the original series, but the fanbase cares more about good stories than if they cast the based on if the actor will let them hit another demographic.

It should say something about them when they have to create a set of “rules” because some dude in his backyard might create something better than they can think up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Of course! How dare a group of dedicated fans arrange for a feature length production Paramount had every ability to capitolize and profit from? Imagine if instead Paramount had agreed to a licensing deal and for the grand total of zero investment, work and oversight have an entire movie to gain a resurgance of fan interest and dedication from.

And of course, how would the fan community recover from seeing some of their own treated with sufficient dignity and respect to put forward their very own feature production for the enjoyment of all? Surely a side funded fan production would destroy any value Paramount has in the franchise. How could a major, massively funded production company POSSIBLY hope to compare?


Seriously. PLEASE somebody explain to me how the release of the film would have damaged the rightsholders >AT ALL

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

This is a big win for CBS and Paramount and I congratulate them on their win. Thing is, Axanar does not own Star Trek and they had no permission from either studio to make such a big budget movie. That would be like making a Star Wars movie without the permission of Disney or Lucasfilm.

If you did not create the franchise, then you need to get permission from the people who created it.

Axanar’s main theme was to make a lot of these Star Trek feature films (while not paying CBS or Paramount a single dime for doing so). When you borrow something that someone else created, YOU NEED TO GET PERMISSION OR A LICENSE TO DO SO.

Alec Peters simply tried to scam CBS, Paramount, The Courts and The Fans and while they only scammed the fans, neither the studios nor the courts saw it that way.

Now, Alec Peters has a bigger problem. He could face a potential class action lawsuit on account of those investors for his movie. He can call the donations all he wants but that Kickstarter projects are not donations. Alec Peters can shout donations all he wants but that he is legally bound to produce the feature length film he received that $1.1 million dollars for.

Just because he settled his conflict with CBS and Paramount doesn’t absolve his responsibility with his investors. I expect that he’ll soon be facing a class action lawsuit on behalf of those who pledged that money for this Star Trek film.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

If the film is so good all he has to do is rename the characters and make a standard space opera.

But then it wouldn’t have the same worth, would it? Worth that comes from something he doesn’t own and does not have the right to use.

I’m never quite sure if you’re deliberately obtuse or just naturally an idiot.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is a big win for CBS and Paramount and I congratulate them on their win. Thing is, Axanar does not own Star Trek and they had no permission from either studio to make such a big budget movie.

The thing is, Star Trek contains many ideas that CBS and Paramount do no own and did not license. So, how about CBS and Paramount be required to, at the least, return and and all money they have collected over the years from any and all versions of Star Trek until they have licenses for each and every idea used? Why didn’t you call for that? Do you think that CBS and Paramount are somehow "special"?

starbase63 (profile) says:

Re: Kenichi

So tell me something, Kenichi…if that is your belief, then you also believe that every other fan film needs to get “permission” from CBS to make a Star Trek fan film? Because none of them do have permission. Never have. You could make one yourself today and not need permission from CBS, as long as you follow the Fan Film Guidelines.

And hate to tell you, giving to a crowdfunded project doesn’t make you an “investor.” You are a donor. The risks are outlined in the Kickstarter and Indiegogo Rules. And yes, I’m a donor…and will not be involved in any silly “class action” thing that would likely be thrown right out of the clerk’s office.

Jim P. (profile) says:

Fan film?

Somewhere, there is a line between a fan film and “Hey, let’s make a film using someone’s characters and situations and decades of goodwill and publicity and maybe make a boatload of money for the people investing in it”.

It’s not like there are thousands of good SF books you could license and adapt or, maybe, come up with your own idea.

Absent it being Star Trek, this company would not be being heard of unless they came up with something really good that people liked all by themselves.

There is a vast difference between “Hey, Johnny has a barn, let’s put on a show based on a famous Broadway musical for people. It’ll be fun!” and “Hey, let’s raise millions of dollars and make a professional movie based on a famous SF movie and TV franchise. It’ll make money!”

“It directly kills off plans to produce what appeared to be really good content.”

All they had to do was supply an original concept of their own.

Suppose they wanted to design a really great car but instead of making their own brand, used recognizable design elements of and stuck Ford labels on them and sold them?

If you don’t like the laws and how they work, change them. Don’t just ignore them and pretend they don’t exist.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Fan film?

It’s not like there are thousands of good SF books you could license and adapt or, maybe, come up with your own idea.

You are aware that Gene Roddenberry used used many ideas that he did not create or license, aren’t you?

stuck Ford labels on them and sold them?

Were the creators of this fan film labeling and selling it as Star Trek? If so, then please provide a reference. Other wise I’m calling bullshit.

fred says:

Re: Re: Fan film?

“Were the creators of this fan film labeling and selling it as Star Trek? If so, then please provide a reference. Other wise I’m calling bullshit.”

What? This is exactly how it was marketed to get donations.

From their kickstarter
“Axanar is the independent Star Trek film which proves that a feature-quality Star Trek film can be made on a small budget.”

Everything was called “Star Trek Axanar”, including their twitter handle handle, before it was changed last week following the settlement.

Anonymous Coward says:

What I’m cheering is the sheer arrogance of someone like Alec Peters who decided to OPT the Star Trek franchise, scam a lot of investor’s into giving him $1.1 million dollars and then using that money to not just build his studio but also to create plans to make more Star Trek films to generate income.

Everyone is missing the point. What Alec Peters tried to do is nothing new. Alec Peters is nothing more than a con-man and scammer who suckered a lot of gullible people into giving him money. I knew from the moment I saw that Prelude to Axanar that Peters was going to run into all types of copyright problems with CBS and Paramount. To be honest, CBS does not have standing to sue, only Paramount does. Paramount holds the movie rights, not CBS.

The other thing is that Alec Peters is going to end up facing a class action lawsuit on behalf of those investors. He promised them a feature length movie but instead, all they will get now is 2 15 minute fan films to be posted on youtube.

I have no symnpathy whatsoever for Alec Peters or Axanar Productions, both of which are scammers and cons who tried to swindle CBS and paramount as well as our court system.

If they want to create a sci-fi franchise, use your own creations. Don’t steal someone else’s ideas.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Ideas can’t be stolen. The Star Trek idea was born of the United Nations; the Federation of Planets is based on this. To whom does Gene Roddenberry’s estate owe royalties?

The character Spock is based on a philosophy called Stoicism and actor Leonard Nimoy added some of his Jewish culture, including that hand gesture of peace. To whom does his estate owe royalties?

Kindly do some thinking. You can’t “own” an idea because no idea is truly original.

Anonymous Coward says:

The idiots and morons posting here need their own special mental defective classification system. Let me explain something to you moral defectives:

  • Alec Peters did not create Star Trek
  • Axanar Productions did not create Star Trek
  • Alec Peters did not license nor get the rights to produce his Star Trek movie
  • Alec Productions did not license nor did they get the rights to produce this Star Trek movie
  • CBS and Paramount Pictures owns all rights pertaining to Star Trek and all related characters and situations
  • Alec Peters and Axanar Production scammed and swindled millions of dollars from investors so they could build their movie studio. Money was not used to produce the movie
  • Axanar Productions had posted on their website that they planned a series of Star Trek movies

By the way, it had previously been reported that the Star Trek movie was already having financial problems and the sets weren’t even completed yet.

Finally, the one thing you should note is that Alec Peters swindled $1.1 million dollars from investors in this movie just to finally determine to make 2 15 minute fan films which did not require any investors.


The final joke is on any moron who was dumb enough to invest in this movie. Only morons could get scammed by a con-artist like Alec Peters.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: I Apologize for the Western World

That would not have made a difference. CBS and Paramount would have began preparations to sue them in other countries that they began production of. Thing is, Axanar is not a real movie production studio. This was Alec Peters taking a copyrighted film and television franchise and trying to fund his movie studio by using something that another studio rightfully owns.

Alec Peters would have been better off building a time machine, go back in time, and steal Gene Roddenberry’s ideas for this franchise.

This was nothing more than a scam by Alec Peters to make a Star Trek movie that would generate him money to build his own movie studio.

tp says:

The whole fan film area is broken

Fan films are pretty much like clones of computer games. The original content comes from something that is _already_ popular. These people are never choosing something that isn’t already very successful. Attaching your own work to something already popular is why all these fan films are being made.

This “attach your work to existing popular work” is extreamly near copyright problems. All copyright stuff gets it’s power from the large amount of work done by original authors. Making your product popular among large number of people requires significant investment of money and effort. These fan films cannot ever escape the problems that they’re too near something that took significantly larger amount of effort to create.

Keeping proper distance from other people’s work is what copyright rules are all about. So that each product can have their own niche which they can slowly grow larger depending on their _own_ merits, independent of work of other people. All the hacks that rename work to sound like existing success product, or attaching the work to success product or borrowing the visual elements from existing product… these all activities are just completely wrong way to do it.

It takes significant amount of time to get your product successful. Waiting for 20 years for success while at the same time working slowly to improve your output can be very frustrating. So shortcuts like above are easy way to get to the success lane faster. But they’re also very dangerous, since the system is not supposed to let people who do not really deserve success yet on their own merits to the spotlight. People who didn’t spend the effort simply cannot handle the pressure involved in the success.

Counterarguments to this always involves “we can find cool content from internet, but it’s forbidden to mix and match that content to create quickly something cool”… The keyword is always “quickly”. Why do you want success quickly? You have your whole life time to get success, it does not need to happen immediately. It takes hard work to create something cool, and all those shortcuts are taking away something important: Quick success formula just means you did not learn the necessary skills to do the actual work involved in creating the product. Skipping these important steps in the process means you’ll be useless next time you do anything.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The whole fan film area is broken

Out of curiosity, given what you just wrote what would your position be on say Disney and how pretty much all of their movies early on were just re-works of someone else’s work?

Or the constant re-hash and reboots of various series, like, oh I dunno, Star Trek? All they’re doing is taking an idea someone else came up with and making their own spin on it after all, clearly that means they’re too lazy to come up with their own stuff, right?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: The whole fan film area is broken

In Nina Paley’s original thread of how "Copyright is Brain Damage", tp made it clear that he believes that Disney was given, and should be given the benefit of the doubt that they couldn’t possibly know that the material they worked on wasn’t actually available to them.

This guy’s like Whatever with half the brains Whatever has, which in itself is pretty amazing considering what limited brainpower Whatever has.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The whole fan film area is broken

Oh, hey, it’s the idiot who thinks copyright law’s sole purpose is to allow content creators to take their older content offline and ban further sales for it, or risk being up to their ears in unwanted customer service.

Why do you want success quickly?

You say that like it’s somehow unique to fans, and not studio executives as a whole.

tp says:

Re: Re: The whole fan film area is broken

> Why do you want success quickly?
> You say that like it’s somehow unique to fans, and not studio executives as a whole.

Guess fan film area is not the only thing in the world that is broken. Studio executives might be broken some other way. Their main problem is that fans will completely reject the product, if they can see even one photoshop fail in the product. Obviously competing against human sight, where evolution had few billion years time to optimize the human eyes, and they’re trying to match it’s quality using some 30 years old technology. So it might be a small challenge. But if they spam their adverticements to large enough area, they might get their money back, and everyone is happy afterwards. But it would be ridiculous for fans to be able to do the same thing, if only they were allowed to use content from internet to do it.

When you try to ask from the internet, what kind of products should be created for world to be better tomorrow, the answer is somehow in this direction:
1) choose some person who managed to do something great (astronaut is good example)
2) push that same requirement(walking in the moon) to your friend. Obviously you don’t want to do that yourself, but it’s suitable for your friend.
3) Then remove all the support that the previous person had. i.e. Can’t use NASA’s support to implement the requirement.
4) Then make it absolutely necessary using some extreamly powerful forcing actions that the requirement be implemented completely and with high quality using some technology that is available to your friend.

This is the kind of bullshit internet is full of. Noone ever bothers to consider how large work amount is involved in these kind of requirements. When they don’t bother to calculate the real work amount, the system is full of impossible requirements. Fan film creators are obviously listening what their audience wants, but unfortunately the ideas are something like “we want new episodes to star trek, since we already saw everything that the studio managed to create”. If it’s not star trek, it’ll be immediately rejected. Fan films area obviously buys this bullshit and tries to get the problem fixed. But it’s very near the astronaut problem. Someone managed to create the previous version of the product, and they’re pushing the same requirement + some additional quality requirements that the studio failed to meet in the original series. So there will be “one person” competing against some large company. Trick that many people forget is that those large companies are built from individual people, who can only work certain amount of work hours per week. So one person can actually build part of the required product. But if such professional person cannot implement the requirement with higher quality, your fan film people have no chance of exceeding the quality, especially without the company’s support.

Thus when fans are trying to do the impossible requirement, someone needs to help them to stop the development process. This is the reason to sue the bastards.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: The whole fan film area is broken

But if such professional person cannot implement the requirement with higher quality, your fan film people have no chance of exceeding the quality

So the fan film was never a threat to begin with, and somehow they still need to be sued through the ears? This is what you’re claiming:

"Nobody cares about big studios because the Internet are idiots, so when the Internet tries to do what the studios cannot someone must stop them at any cost."

Just as ridiculous and irrational as ever. Some things never change.

tp says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The whole fan film area is broken

So the fan film was never a threat to begin with, and somehow they still need to be sued through the ears?

Maybe the reason to sue them was not really that “they’re a threat”. Better reason is “we think sueing will help these people..”

You have some kind of assumption that studios are evil and internet is somehow perfect…

Anonymous Coward says:

What I find so unbelievable about Alec Peters is his comment that “CBS and Paramount turn a blind eye to fan films”. That’s actually not true. Book publishers, anime studios, manga publishers, movie studios do not turn a blind eye to this fan created content … they simply recognize the need for fans to create this content and it adds to their experience.

However, what Alec Peters did went beyond what it called acceptable fan-created content because Alec Peters solicited funds to produce a professional Star Trek film and he used those funds to build his movie studio. Axanar abused the very concept of what is considered a fan film and this was brought to the attention of CBS and Paramount who took prompt legal action to stop what ti was he was doing.

Andy says:


The people that created the intro video for this movie should just remove all star trek references, start a completely new universe where it was more realistic and where the storylines were what looks like from there initial video way stronger than anything that the star trek universe has provided.
they could have an open ended copyright where anyone can create a full length movie.

The time to really attack the studios and there reliance on old franchises is over let the new generation take over and create create create on YouTube and any network that would want the best sci fi ever created.

Anonymous Coward says:

Rigged System

“Just before the trial, the judge in the case had ruled against Axanar, saying that they couldn’t claim fair use — which basically killed any shot they had of winning.”

So the judge basically rigged the trial in Hollywood’s favor before it even began. Rigging the system doesn’t show that you’re right. To me, it says just the opposite if Hollywood had to resort to that to “win”. Big money may have “won” this time, but they’re still in the wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Unfortunately this time it doesn’t look like Alec Peters was an overzealous fan wronged by the MAFIAA.

This guy tried to actively scam CBS and Paramount (among many others). He was simply looking to make bank, Star Trek was just something he was more prepared for.

This asshat is largely to blame for the nuclear-option level of the “fan film guidelines” CBS and Paramount ended up releasing. Like forcing fan films to be purely amateur practically hard capped at USD 45000 before taxes (crowdfunding fees are ~ 10% – USD 5000).

Also if you went to acting school… Congratulations! You can’t play a part in any Star Trek fan film.
You can address all thank you letters to Alec Peters!

John85851 (profile) says:

Protection for licenees

I don’t know if this has been brought up yet, but has anyone talked about how CBS/ Paramount might be suing to protect their brand-names in the interest of other licensees?

For example, CBS/ Paramount license the Star Trek names, logos, likeness, and so on to comic book companies like DC, Marvel, and Dark Horse.
What would happen if they saw people like Alec Peters making Star Trek projects without paying for a license?

This would like how the NFL doesn’t want anyone using the words “Super Bowl” unless they’re an official sponsor and paid for the rights to use the name.

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