CBS Bullies Fan Star Trek Project To Shut Down Despite Creators' Pleas For Instructions On Being Legit

from the engage-the-lawyers dept

Lawsuits and intellectual property disputes revolving around the Star Trek franchise are legion. This is largely due to just how massive and popular the franchise has been over the past decades and into the present. Still, we’ve seen all kinds of examples of how either the disputes are frivolous or silly, or cases in which IP owners had so many options open to them other than bullying and suing but chose to ignore those alternative routes.

That brings us to Stage 9, a non-commercial labor of love put together by fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Stage 9 is the virtual recreation of TNG’s Enterprise starship that allows fans of the series to explore the beloved vessel and immerse themselves in the chief setting of the series. Stage 9 has been built over the past two years by creators that have taken great pains to state that the project was not affiliated or licensed with CBS or Paramount and that they weren’t doing this to make money, only to artistically demonstrate their fandom.

As you’ve probably already guessed, all that was for nothing as CBS sent them a cease and desist letter anyway.

“This letter was a cease-and-desist order,” Scragnog explains. “Over the next 13 days we did everything we possibly could to open up a dialog with CBS. The member of the CBS legal team that issued the order went on holiday for a week immediately after sending the letter through, which slowed things down considerably.”

Part of the team’s strategy at that point was to remind everyone it could at CBS of the words of John Van Citters, CBS VP for Product Development. Back in 2016, shortly before this project started, Van Citters publicly remarked that the Star Trek franchise owes its success to the fans and the community that creates so much fan-work around the Trek universe. He went so far as to plead with fans to get involved, specifically stating that fans creating fanworks are “not going to hear from us. They’re not going to get a phone call, they’re not going to get an email. They’re not going to get anything that’s going to ruin their day… like they’ve done something wrong.”

Those seem to be in direct contradiction to the very real letter that very much ruined the day of the team behind Stage 9. And so the team reached out to Van Citters directly to see if he could get involved and help. Van Citters failed to even respond, and when CBS’ lawyer finally got back from vacation, it was stated that nobody would be working with these fans to make their project legit, it all just had to go away.

“We were hoping, perhaps naively, that the elements of Stage 9 that CBS did not approve of would be highlighted to us, so we could be sure to remove these elements from the project and create something that met with, if not their approval, then at least their acceptance,” Scragnog explains.

To keep the project alive, the team were prepared to make any changes ordered by CBS. Sadly, CBS said that the project could not continue in any form, no matter what changes were made. They provided no further details and, as noted by Eurogamer, did not indicate how Stage 9 had violated the fan art guidelines previously published by CBS and Paramount.

And so the story of a two year fan-project that would have at worst brought some joy to a bunch of Star Trek fans and, at best, would serve as free marketing material for the show, has come to the most unfortunate of endings. Thanks to mealy mouthed executives who can’t be bothered to either back up their own altruistic statements or engage with fans of their property, two years of work simply gets tossed in the trash.

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Companies: cbs, paramount

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Comments on “CBS Bullies Fan Star Trek Project To Shut Down Despite Creators' Pleas For Instructions On Being Legit”

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55 Comments
Its Five-Year Mission, To Seek Out Old Crap says:

Plan 9 for Trek-kies non-creative duplicating SHOULD BE STOPPED.

Sheesh. This is what Trekkism leads to. They probably all dress up as furries with medieval armor and call themselves Ninjas. The few females may wear semi-bondage bikini though they need only green body paint to be a convincing Jabba The Hut.

Anyhoo, these neo-fantasists had PLENTY of warning in fact that they tried to get permission, and now it’s a big HOOT that their "work" is all down the inter-tubes.

And why? Because BLATANTLY COPIED.

I’m certainly glad of it. Thought Star Trek was rightly taken off TV in ’69, could see the HUGE flaws of its "science": just CRAP made up for convenience of filming.

I.T. Guy says:

Re: Plan 9 for Trek-kies non-creative duplicating SHOULD BE STOPPED.

“They probably all dress up as furries with medieval armor”

No different than you and your Civil War reenactor buddies… well not exactly your buddies… they threw you out. ROFL. Like JREF… and your many many youtube accounts.

Seems like you have a lot of time on your hands lately. So not only did Brandy see the light and throw you out, you’re unemployed now as well? Still living with wiLLie Sr.? Poor old guy.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Plan 9 for Trek-kies non-creative duplicating SHOULD BE STOPPED.

Why should anyone care what your opinion is, Blue?

You are someone who doesn’t even honor their own words. You challenged Mike to rebut your comment the other day and stated you’d leave Techdirt if he did. He did so and you are still here.

Your honor and character are now both suspect, Blue. A person is only as good as their word, in my book.

Jason says:

If I squint really hard, I can bring myself to imagine that CBS might–possibly–be working on some kind of similar product themselves, and that’s the underlying reason for the path of the jerk that they’ve chosen to take with this. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in a few months, there’s some product announcement about a "virtual recreation that fans can fully explore!" or something of that nature.

Not saying I think their actions (or lack thereof) are justified here; as noted there are plenty of other, friendlier ways they could have approached this. But it wouldn’t surprise me if any previous altruistic statements were thrown right out the window as soon as any kind of money was on the table.

John85851 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, “The Next Generation Interactive Technical Manual” CD-ROM has been out for over 20 years and is still available for sale at Amazon. So, technically, the fan version would be competing with this version. Though I don’t know if CBS owns the manual or gets a cut of the sales.

However, there’s something (insert expletive here) about how a lawyer sends out a cease and desist order and then promptly goes on vacation so the defending party can’t negotiate.

Gary (profile) says:

Or Block progress

The United States Congress shall have power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

To promote the arts, not to block competition or secure unlimited rights to others works.
Building the most elaborately detailed model of the Enterprise D would be such an accomplishment that took nothing away from Roddenberry’s works.

Back in the 90’s Paramount sold a "Virtual Enterprise" program that was billed as a something like this. to everyone’s disappointment it only had a dozen rooms and you couldn’t explore the ship at all.

Kenny says:

Re: Or Block progress

Blame Europe and its treaties for the abusive implementation of that clause.

Before France demanded we respect very long term copywriter claims copywriters didn’t extend more than a few decades. Making much of star trek public domain.

That means CBS only owes new stuff made after about 20-30 years ago. Now because of France we have copywrites that last a century or more.
https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-duration.html

Ironically the original series copywrite would have run out completely in 2014 if congress had not extended it in 1998. Now it may run out in 2061. Assuming they don’t keep extending it.

The first U.S. Federal Copywrite laws under the constitution could last at most 28 years. if extended after 14 years. By the time the original series was aired, the initial period was extended to 28 years and extendable to 20 years.

Some call this the Micky mouse curve in the USA because Disney presumably has been driving frequent changes to horde Micky mouse for themselves.
https://alj.orangenius.com/mickey-mouse-keeps-changing-copyright-law/

But really i call it the snobbish french curve who believe an author always owns and controls whatever they create or can argue is related to what they create.

I think Micky mouse, and star trek is by all rights public domain, because the copywrite extension acts of 1977,1992 and 1998 are all ex post facto law’s prohibited by Article 1, Section 9 of the U.S. Constitution.
“No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.”

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Or Block progress

Assume all that is true (and I will): since when did that stop a grandstanding politician on a mission in the absence of a public outcry? We should have SOPA’d this years ago, and we didn’t.

Now we’re paying the price for our complacence. The good news is that even the IPR powers that be are beginning to see value in “Limited times.” If the limit comes down to a sensible one of, say, 28 years tops, I’ll change my attitude towards copyright but for now I say if they can’t play nicely with their toys, they can’t have them.

Anonymous Coward says:

We've been waiting for this...

We’ve been waiting for over 20 years for the technology and the software to catch up to give an experience with the quality they did (and this was FREE!).

CBS/Paramount never wanted to push a project like that through because they want the all the old Trek story lines to die and be replaced with the new Abrams version. Either that or they don’t want to keep on paying residuals to the old casts for likeness rights.

They missed a golden opportunity not just to foster goodwill with the fans, but to make money in a venture that had practically 90% of the development done.

I would have gladly paid $50-$60 for something like that (but not if they did a new Trek version. Gads that bridge is gaudy).

Valkor says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That’s how CBS might make money, not these guys. That’s pass through advertising, and Stage 9 doesn’t have other properties to advertise, or a merch shop. If CBS want’s to do that, make a free virtual advertisement space, then they can knock themselves the fuck out. There’s still no “threat” from Stage 9!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I was wondering the same thing? Personally, if I was creating it because I was a fan with 0 interest in making money. I would probably still create it and just not announce/post it. Certainly would be a bummer if someone pirated online. I also remember in unreal tournament 2004 of mods and maps of recreations of many level. Stargate and Star Trek are some that I through were done fairly well. That was a while ago but don’t remember any C&D on projects like that.

Anonymous Coward says:

“Sadly, CBS said that the project could not continue in any form, no matter what changes were made.”

…What? I thought the whole point of copyright all these companies were crooning about involved slight changes to “promote creativity”. Yet CBS won’t let the stage 9 creators split their idea off from Star Trek even with the franchise indica removed? That’s way out-of-line for CBS.

tom (profile) says:

This whole thing highlights the failure of copyright today. “Limited” as stated in the Constitution has basically become unlimited due to Congress being bought off by large media companies and the courts going along with rulings that say “limited” is whatever Congress says it is. Imagine the howling if Congress applied the same “limited” term to patents as they currently do to copyright. Since both come from the same section of the Constitution, hard to see how the courts could argue without overturning their previous rulings on this.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It is also hard to see how the courts have not made a statement on Congresses interpretation of limited in the case of copyright either. That is of course, assuming that some case making the claim has worked its way up the judicial ladder. There would be some expense there, but having the courts tell Congress that limited is not life plus 75 years when the Constitution says:

"To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;"

and that dead people don’t create, could do a lot for creativity, and the economy.

That One Guy (profile) says:

"Make all you want, our lawyers always need something to kill."

Back in 2016, shortly before this project started, Van Citters publicly remarked that the Star Trek franchise owes its success to the fans and the community that creates so much fan-work around the Trek universe. He went so far as to plead with fans to get involved, specifically stating that fans creating fanworks are "not going to hear from us. They’re not going to get a phone call, they’re not going to get an email. They’re not going to get anything that’s going to ruin their day… like they’ve done something wrong."

And so the team reached out to Van Citters directly to see if he could get involved and help. Van Citters failed to even respond, and when CBS’ lawyer finally got back from vacation, it was stated that nobody would be working with these fans to make their project legit, it all just had to go away.

Well, one part of his statement was true, they most certainly didn’t hear from him, even if they absolutely did hear from the lawyers he’d insisted wouldn’t be involved in fan projects.

Or put another way: Van Citters either lied, or he made a statement he had no power to back up based upon nothing but what he thought was the case, neither of which are a good look for him or CBS.

Still, if CBS objects so strongly to fans getting involved, then it seems the response would be to stop doing so. Don’t make fan works, don’t bother talking about it, just forget it exists.

If you really want to watch the shows then fine, but don’t engage in it beyond that, and if that means that the next generation(pun unintended) only knows the term ‘Star Trek’ thanks to a handful of modern movies, such that the older works are essentially left in the dust and worthless, oh well, CBS should have thought of that before.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: "Make all you want, our lawyers always need something to kill."

Actually, they could go further. If fans of CBS shows became aware of this incident, they could get their heads around just not watching any CBS shows on TV, on cable, in streaming. Alternatively they could just torrent them, then CBS wouldn’t get any of the credos from any of the viewing rating agencies and the resultant loss of ad revenue. The fans don’t lose, but CBS does. Seems like a fair turnabout (not the I am promoting ‘pirating’ in any way, I am suggesting a possible outcome).

Rekrul says:

They forgot the unwritten rule of fan projects: That they can never look as good as a commercial offering would. As long as they look like cheap, amateur fan efforts that nobody would ever mistake for the real thing, CBS is fine with them, but the moment they start to approach the level of a professional effort, CBS will stomp them down hard.

Wothe (profile) says:

Actually, that set is much older than two years. I t evolved under the fan project Star Trek Continues.

STC chose to finish that Captain Kirk 5-year mission and did it in 11 full length episodes and a slew of shorter gags/ vignettes. They got better with each episode IMHO

When they finally finished, they turned the sets over to Stage 9 for preservation — and <**gasp**> put out legitimate torrents for the work in DVD and Bluray ISO formats

Jim P. (profile) says:

Corporate Zombies

“They’re not going to get anything that’s going to ruin their day..”
I see three possibilities:
1: He was lying from the start but needed to look good in the press.
2. He is not really in charge and has no idea what is going on and no control over it.
3. He meant what he said but his attorneys don’t give a **** because someone willing ti pay huge licensing fees is considering doing something similar.

I vote for #2 as it seems to me, more and more, giant corporations do not really have anyone in charge and those who think they are in charge have no means or interest in finding out if their instructions are being carried out and no means to intervene when they are not. Or are simply told by some senior executive flunky that it has been taken care of and their isolation is such they have no means of noting reality.

Most heads of major corporations/government agencies are so protected by layers of assistants. special assistants and executive assistant to the special assistant that getting through to them is a major (and expensive) effort if you yourself do not operate on those levels.

Josh says:

Stage 9

All the CBS ass licking cucks who fill this blog, CBS is shit, fans made Star Trek last all these decades and become more popular than originally, and fans can destroy CBs by passing the word to boycott all CBS shows. CBS is shit, CBS owners and lawyers deserve to loose everything for the hate they have for fans. I won’t stop celebrating the original Star Trek with art, CBS can burn in hell.

gorokuwireless (profile) says:

cbs.com/roku

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for more info and updates on CBS activation and streaming on Roku.

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