Star Trek Fan Film Axanar Lawyers Tell Court About JJ Abrams Claims Of Paramount Dropping Suit, Express Confusion

from the well,-this-is-awkward dept

Over the weekend, the internet blew up over the story that Paramount and CBS were going to drop their silly lawsuit over a professional looking Star Trek fan film. The news was "broken" by the producer of the next official Star Trek film, JJ Abrams, sitting alongside the director of that film, Justin Lin, at a Star Trek fan event. Lin had previously expressed support for the fan film on Twitter, and Abrams claimed that Lin urged Paramount to settle, and that "within a few weeks" there would be an announcement that the case had been settled.

Of course, between now and "within a few weeks," the case is still going on... and the folks behind the fan film, called Axanar, had to file their reply to the amended complaint. And they have. And, as per usual with these things, it goes through and rebuts various claims and then tosses in a bunch of counterclaims. Normally we'd go through and analyze the more interesting/important claims, but given that there's still a pretty good chance the whole case is going away shortly, we'll skip all that and jump to the part where Axanar's lawyers point to the JJ Abrams/Justin Lin statements and basically throw their hands in the air and say "we don't know what to do about this." After highlighting both of their comments, as well as the quote from Paramount "confirming" the settlement talks, the filing notes:
Nevertheless, despite these public comments, the present action remains pending, and Defendants are currently left with uncertainty as to how Axanar may proceed with its film to fulfill the wishes of thousands of fans who have contributed.
Given that pretty much everyone has admitted that there are settlement talks that are far along, it seems like the court should put the case on hold to see how those pan out. It's fairly common to see courts give parties extra time to settle such disputes out of court, and here's a case where that extra time clearly makes a lot of sense.

It still seems likely that the case will settle soon. I've seen some (fairly ignorant) commentary online arguing that because Axanar has filed counterclaims, the case must now move forward, but that's wrong. People are confusing the fact that the parties can settle the case outside of court with the issue of whether or not Paramount can just drop the case. From the statements everyone made, it's quite clear that they were discussing settlements, not Paramount universally backing away. A Star Trek "rumors" site claims that people at CBS are upset about the counterclaims and may continue the case even if Paramount settles (remember, Paramount and CBS co-own the various Star Trek IP). That report also claims that the two companies want the settlement to include the Axanar project being shut down -- which would seem to contradict the claims from Abrams.

While anything is possible, and the revealing of the settlement before it was actually agreed to could make things a bit messier, I find the claims about this difficult to believe. Axanar had to file its response because the case is still going and it was due. And they filed a strong response with counterclaims, because they have to do that, in case the settlement talks do fall apart for whatever reason. They can't go back to the judge and say "Hey, we filed a weak response because we thought we were all chummy now." That's not how it works. And, of course, the lawyers on the other side know this as well. The idea that the high priced lawyers at Paramount and CBS were somehow offended by this seems like a stretch. I may not agree with their views on copyright law, but I'd doubt they're so thin-skinned that some expected counterclaims will suddenly stop them from wanting to settle. Frankly, all the talk about how the counterclaims have sunk the settlement seem like wishful thinking from a group of folks who just hate the idea of Axanar.

Filed Under: alec peters, axanar, copyright, derivative works, fair use, fan films, jj abrams, justin lin, promises
Companies: axanar productions, cbs, paramount


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  • icon
    Nemesis (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 11:06am

    Maybe CBS and Paramount are just jealous.

    It would have been so easy to shut this down sooner. I think CBS and Paramount thought that this would be just another crappy "fan movie" with cardboard sets and atrocious acting/writing.

    Instead, "Prelude to Axanar", their prequel video, ended up being arguably better/faithful/more "Star Trek" than anything that CBS or Paramount has produced in the last 20 years.

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

  • icon
    Ehud Gavron (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 11:36am

    Astroturfing Haters

    "Frankly, all the talk about how the counterclaims have sunk the settlement seem like wishful thinking from a group of folks who just hate the idea of Axanar."

    The "group of folks who just hate the idea of Axanar" are part of (or paid by) the group of folks that believe ratcheting i̶n̶t̶e̶l̶l̶e̶c̶t̶u̶a̶l̶ imaginary property; they believe that elements that can be copyrighted create concepts that can be copyrighted; they believe that through endless litigation like this case they can extend these non-rights until they are absolute and inviolable.

    Those of us who've spent years working with lawyers know that at the end of the day it is the _client_ that makes the decisions. That's why Donald Trump's lawyer does stupid things; it's why the lawyers here have to file a clever and strongly-worded reply to the complaint... and add counterclaims as appropriate.

    Thank you for the update. It will be a refreshing nod to not extending copyright concepts if Axanar is able to produce the movie... and the lawsuit is settled.

    E
    P.S. I would never expect it to be "dropped" nor "dismissed" because no company with half a desire to protect its "IP" would want to set that precedent...

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

  • icon
    AlphaMichael (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 2:02pm

    That's Ok. To me, Techdirt is just a "news" site.

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

  • identicon
    Mr Big Content, 27 May 2016 @ 5:08pm

    I Find There Lack Of Faith Disturbing

    Dont they know that Paramount and CBS are Honest and Trustworthy Coprorations? Yet here they are filing counterclaims as though THEIR STILL BEING SERIOUSLY SUED. Theyve been TOLD they will be let off easy. Dont they TRUST THAT ASSURANCE?

    No, I think weve shown them enough patience, now its NO MORE MR NICE CORP. Its now time to DROP TEH BANHAMMER ON THEM.

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

  • icon
    kenichi tanaka (profile), 27 May 2016 @ 9:36pm

    I've also been watching this draw out and I expressed concern over Axanar's dubious claims that what they were doing constitutes fair use.

    It's like if someone decided to use the "fan film/fair use" argument to produce a professional Star Wars film, or a James Bond film. Fair use is actually limited to what you're able to do:


    1. the purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;

    2. the nature of the copyrighted work;

    3. the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and

    4. the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

    I don't care what kind of moronic reason some idiot comes up with, fan art, fan fiction, fan films have never been considered "fair use". The reason most rights holders don't press it is because they don't consider them a serious threat.

    Then, along comes Axanar Productions. What they did went far beyond what fair use allows. They solicited donations/funds from users online and posted in their online solicitation that backers would be able to download a digital copy of the film. Fair use doesn't allow someone to profit from copyrighted intellectual property rights. Make no mistake about it, Axanar Productions is profiting off this movie.

    It's no different than torrent websites which distribute audio, video and printed content that is owned by those who created that content.

    Axanar isn't making a review of a Paramount or CBS "Star Trek" production, they are making a professional movies while infringing on CBS and Paramount's copyrights.

    Case in point, fair use can be claimed if you're making a parody film, or producing a review on a copyrighted property. Since Star Trek: Axanar isn't a parody nor a review, Axanar doesn't have a leg to stand on.

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

    • identicon
      Will, 28 May 2016 @ 12:23am

      "Fair use doesn't allow someone to profit"

      "MYTH: Fair Use is only valid when it is non-commercial.

      REALITY: Fair use is designed to expand the range of cultural production, not just the range of non-commercial cultural production. Almost all the occasional litigation on fair use, which has determined this legal trend of interpretation, has been over commercial uses. (Generally lawsuits aren't begun if there is no money to be gained.) Fair uses can be made of copyrighted material in any commercial context, so long as the “four factors” of consideration tilt toward the value of new contributions to culture against the cost to current owners. Currently the simplest calculation, the one preferred by the courts, is to find transformation (reuse for a different purpose), and to make sure that only as much of the original has been used as is necessary for the transformation; this is best done with a justification for the habits and practices of a particular creative or user community."

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120530/17333319132/myths-realities-about-fair-use.sht ml

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2016 @ 7:02am

      Re:

      "Fair use doesn't allow someone to profit from copyrighted intellectual property rights."

      It's so adorable that you're willing to state with such confidence something 100% completely totally wrong.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 28 May 2016 @ 2:43pm

      In spite of the law rather than because of it

      I don't care what kind of moronic reason some idiot comes up with, fan art, fan fiction, fan films have never been considered "fair use". The reason most rights holders don't press it is because they don't consider them a serious threat.

      I've seen that claim put forward before, and the funny thing is that it's not actually a pro-copyright argument when you think about it.

      Massive amounts of creativity, ranging from very similar to the source material to wildly different, and under that reading of the law(which may very well be 'correct' in that it matches what the law says) most if not all of it is in violation of the law.

      Given the entire purpose of copyright law is to benefit the public by having more works created, that it can be read to make vast amounts of creativity flat out illegal is not an argument against fan creations, it's an argument against the law, and a strong indicator that it needs to be updated so that it better serves it's stated purpose of serving the public.

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

    • identicon
      Disinvited, 30 May 2016 @ 5:55pm

      Re: Parody

      Apparently Paramount's lawfirm doesn't believe what you assert because in 1996:

      articles.chicagotribune.com/1996-03-01/news/9603020133_1_voyager-home-star-trek-spoofs

      the same lawfirm on Paramount's behalf went after STAR TWEK parody plays.

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

    • identicon
      Wendy Cockcroft, 31 May 2016 @ 5:49am

      Re:

      No, it's not a parody or a review, but it is a transformative use of existing material and is therefore copyrightable in itself. Besides, if Axanar is a success, couldn't CBS/Paramount make use of the characters, etc., and riff off of that? It's how culture works before the IPR vultures swoop in and start pecking.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 May 2016 @ 4:39am

    Oh; whatever , do save us from a non corporate use of the fair use doctrine. Please save us you magnificent stallion!

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

  • icon
    Monday (profile), 28 May 2016 @ 10:05am

    I don't trust them...

    An ancient Proverb says, "The Cock does not crow until the Dawn."

    People are looking too far and too much into the future of this entire copyright v. Fan-funded movie debacle. It could go on for years longer. Do they (CBS and Paramount Shareholders) really care about the reactions and comments from Abrams or Lin?

    I just don't trust them at their words. They could simply take it all, because CBS and Paramount believe it is their Property; "They own it".

    They now have an idea of what fans are capable of creating, and now they would just have to meet, then exceed these expectations... even if it is by a miniscule amount of production.

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


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