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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  • identicon
    w, 30 Dec 2015 @ 11:49am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:02pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        W, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:20pm

        Re: Re:

        I wouldn't want the change in Copyright law solely affecting the creator of the root artwork. Those who create remixed pieces would be affected similarly by not being able to prevent other fans from creating remixes of remixes.

        I get what you're saying and I think we're just disagreeing on semantics rather than substance.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 11:59am

    This is a perfect example of copyright encouraging innovation by clamping down on innovation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:01pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    crade (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:03pm

    Because laws that condemn a wide net of acceptable actions and leaves it up to some company's discretion when it is and isn't enforced aren't the problem, the problem is this company's discretion.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:10pm

    TD complains YET AGAIN about a copyright owner enforcing its rights. Snores.

    But, yeah, TD isn't anti-copyright. No. Not at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      W, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:23pm

      Re:

      Oh look, a copyright maximalist. Tell me - what benefit is it to the company to send legal threats to their most devoted fans? What benefit is it to *anyone* other than the copyright lawyer who pretends to add value to the company while leeching value in reality?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 30 Dec 2015 @ 3:03pm

        Re: Re:

        It sends the message that the franchise is strong(-arming), alive and kicking (its fans in the nuts). What's not (really) to love?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:50pm

      Re:

      They specificly complain about the effectiveness of the business strategy, not wether the copyright claim is valid.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:59pm

      Re:

      Did you note where I said CBS was well within their rights?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Mason Wheeler (profile), 31 Dec 2015 @ 8:36am

        Re: Re:

        I actually don't see them as being clearly within their rights at all. If the creators of Axanar had a meeting with CBS and CBS said they were fine with them producing the film, then doesn't that mean that any subsequent attempt to shut it down has "promissory estoppel" written all over it?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2015 @ 10:01am

          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!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 4:31pm

      Re:

      Shouldn't you be busy trolling on Torrentfreak?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:14pm

    What does this have to do with copyright? The fan film doesn't appear to use any assets created or owned by CBS. This is a trademark issue.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 30 Dec 2015 @ 3:10pm

      Re:

      Literary characters are covered by copyright, and so are story backdrops. It's one of the MPAA's superpowers. The origin story is ugly and involves a wormhole forming in everybody's pocket leading you-know-where.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:27pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:29pm

    Dear CBS Stockholders,

    CBS just use the legal system (and high price lawyers) to demand that they walk away from a project that would have made them money with little to no capital investment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:37pm

    And this is why it's better to make a Star Wars fan-film.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dave (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 12:43pm

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:10pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 30 Dec 2015 @ 3:20pm

      Re: My take on it...

      It's the corporate form of toxoplasmosis, transmitted by weasels and rather ubiquitous by now.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TJGeezer (profile), 31 Dec 2015 @ 8:02am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Graham J (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:19pm

    Brand management

    This could be a timing thing - with a new movie and series on the way CBS may simply have decided they need to more closely manage their brand. If the fan film took the ST universe in a direction that differs from their plans the result could be negative for CBS.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Daryl R., 4 Jan 2016 @ 11:41am

      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!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nate (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:32pm

    Could it be that CBS is jealous that this is better than the last three Star Trek movies?

    The 20 minute teaser looks awesome:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1W1_8IV8uhA

    It makes the last three official ST movies look like shit.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    leehb9 (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 1:52pm

    Trej vs CBS

    If you enjoy all things 'TREK', it's probably a great time to totally boycott anything and everything from CBS. And tell your friends to do the same!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    kenichi tanaka (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 2:45pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Dark Helmet (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 2:48pm

      Re:

      Fun question: if a fan-film is a film "made by fans at their own cost" and this was a film made by a fan and the cost was shouldered by fans, what's the fucking difference?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      RD, 30 Dec 2015 @ 3:56pm

      Re:

      Well, then, maybe CBS/Paramount should make an actually GOOD Star Trek movie then.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Tim K (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 4:21pm

      Re:

      You do realize that that crowd in the crowdsourcing, would be the fans of Star Trek

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Jonathan Kivett (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 7:42pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2015 @ 1:19am

      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 .

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Mat (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 4:00pm

    A question...

    "...and from participating or assisting in any such activity whether or not it occurs in the United States."

    How does a US court get to enforce such an injunction over someone who is not in their jurisdiction?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TRX (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 5:05pm

    So... just change enough of it to keep away from copyright infringement and release it anyway,

    That's what Samuli Torssonnen did with "Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning." Which was better than most of the "real" Trek films anyway. And he did it for far less than a million bucks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jupiterkansas (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 5:32pm

    Throw in a few jokes and call it a parody.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 31 Dec 2015 @ 1:23am

      Re:


      Throw in a few jokes and call it a parody.

      You are talking about the U.S. justice system, right? That's probably the best plan forward I've seen so far.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Jigsy, 30 Dec 2015 @ 5:45pm

    It's almost as if CBS is managed by Ferengi...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 8:34pm

    Fans versus bucks

    Why is this so hard to understand?

    A fan flick, that is amateur, is free advertising for CBS' zillion dollar major motion pictures.

    A fan flick that is professional quality, is competition. Competition must die: it's the way of the world these days.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 Dec 2015 @ 8:44pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Nomad of Norad, 31 Dec 2015 @ 1:14am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 31 Dec 2015 @ 4:19am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    TrekAnon, 31 Dec 2015 @ 9:59am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      SirThoreth (profile), 31 Dec 2015 @ 11:54am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2015 @ 10:00am

    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.....so technically Axanar is an entirely original work with no relation to the current state of the Star Trek universe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2015 @ 10:03am

    Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelly (not to mention James Doohan) must be spinning in their graves :(

    They always supported fan creations as they increased peoples immersion in the overall trek universe and CBS have just spat on that legacy.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 31 Dec 2015 @ 10:09am

    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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    psiuuuuuu, 31 Dec 2015 @ 2:38pm

    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.

    "bzzzbbsbsbbszzzz"

    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!"

    (HELL PUT THAT SHIT ON NETFLIX OR AMAZON)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    wayout, 1 Jan 2016 @ 9:27pm

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Charles Roth (profile), 7 Jan 2016 @ 9:48am

    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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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