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CBS/Paramount are Copyright Trolls - Beyond Bored of Star Trek Reboot

by May 18, 2016

As the release date of another Star Trek film looms near, the 13th Trek so far, many long-standing fans are feeling a lack of anticipation. Is there something wrong with the reboot? In 2009, we lovers of all things Trek were guardedly enthusiastic about the return of Roddenberry’s visionary universe. After two films into the reboot, both blockbusters have earned critical praise and galactic box office tallies. But to many loyal Star Trek fans it feels like J.J. Abrams made a pair of CGI action-films, not the Star Trek we used to know. The Star Trek reboot lacks the character-driven stories and philosophical questions that made Star Trek great. Trading character development for spectacle made the 2009 Star Trek reboot feel like a Transformers sequel dressed up in a Federation one-piece.

In J.J. Abrams defense, Star Trek: Into Darkness was the top grossing movie in Star Trek history raking in $467.4-million. Perhaps turning Star Trek into an action-adventure franchise is what it takes to revive it and bring it to new audiences. But despite high praise, the second installment has been maligned by a vocal minority of Trekkers. Soon after its release a Vegas convention of fans voted Into Darkness the worst Star Trek movie in the history of the franchise.

Into Darkness was a modern retelling of the 1982 original, Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan. Khan, easily the best film of the franchise was simply a much better movie, loaded with subtle undertones about regret and the no-win situations in life that force us to live with the choices we make - as seen through the eyes of a now middle-aged Starfleet Officer. Those decisions live on in our lives, occasionally returning to us as family sacrificed for career or as an angry planetary antagonist named... KHAAAAAAN! But ultimately, the film tells us that the one no-win situation we cannot avoid is death in the most touching scene in all Trek films when Spock sacrifices himself for the needs of the many. It's a dark movie that stunned fans of the franchise and is still talked about as one of the greatest movies made for the Star Trek universe - partly because it transcends Star Trek.

So What’s Wrong with the Star Trek Reboot?

Fans will tell you that unlike Star Wars, Trek was never meant to be a fast-paced, big-budget blockbuster driven by action and special effects. There has even been suggestion among fans that Star Trek was just an audition for J. J. Abrams to become the heir-apparent for future Star Wars films.
 So, instead of layered plots and deep character development – we got Star Wars-lite. 
It’s unfortunate because most of the cast of the Star Trek reboot are quite good. Like many fans, I’d love a new Trek film that takes the time to let talented actors like Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Simon Pegg breathe new life into their characters. Sadly, the upcoming Star Trek Beyond will surely limit the acting talent of the Enterprise crew to a lot of grunting and straining of faces while dodging recycled CGI effects from last summer’s slew of blockbusters.


Screenshot of from fanfilm Prelude to Axanar

Can Fanfiction Rescue Star Trek?

Fanfiction has a long, proud history in science fiction and fantasy genres. There are literally hundreds of hours of professional-looking video on YouTube featuring homespun versions of Star Wars, Marvel Comics, Star Trek and dozens more sequels, prequels and side-stories of every ilk. Many are corny and badly acted, while others are slick productions but all make their intense love of the source material the star of the show.

Axanar Productions makes Star Trek fanfiction film and to date has made a finely crafted 21-minute episode called Prelude to Axanar and released a teaser for what is to be a feature length movie, AXANAR. Axanar Productions has clearly taken the quality of most fanfiction to the next level with great CGI, writing and professional acting. But in doing so has received the attention of CBS/Paramount, copyright owners of Start Trek TV and movies respectively, who may be threatened by the professional-grade production quality Axanar has achieved so, they elected to sue Axanar for copyright infringement.

Fanfilm  Teaser: Prelude to Axanar

Axanar Productions has been funded by a mix of donations, Kickstarter campaigns and even personally funded by Axanar's owner, Alec Peters.

Alec began the production company to make high-quality fan-films around Star Trek’s Axanar storyline. The plot reaches deep into Star Trek's past, 21 years before Capt. Kirk. The project has been funded by a kickstarter and fan donations through its website that managed to raise over $1 million while landing some Star Trek veteran actors in lead roles such as J.G. Hertzler, Gary Graham, Tony Todd.

Copyright holders of fictional properties usually celebrate fanfiction as a form of free advertising, and also perhaps the highest form of flattery. The existence of the fanfiction phenomena is widely seen as an insurance policy for the future success of official products released by the property owner under one important condition - the producers of fanfiction cannot be a professional endeavor and cannot sell anything such as tickets, merchandise or copies of films or series.

This is where many Star Trek fans believe Axanar may have crossed the line. Many online have conflated various facts and allegations about Axanar Productions and how they effect the CBS/Paramount lawsuit. Paid actors used in any Axanar Productions film and the status of Axanar's soundstage are not necessarily relevant to its status as a non-profit and is up to the courts to decide, not the opinions of Internet forums or bloggers.

In an email to Audioholics recently, Alec Peters says:

"In our second Kickstarter Campaign, we explicitly told potential donors that part of the money raised would go toward finishing out the warehouse space we were renting so we could shoot AXANAR - so building out the soundstage was inevitable and prominently displayed on the campaign page and video message.  Moreover, Axanar Productions was very up-front with the information that the funding campaign for AXANAR was meant to generate enough revenue to pay for one of the three years' rent on the space.  After that, the soundstage would be rented out to generate revenues to continue paying the rent of the space (which included the offices where AXANAR would be edited and where the production crew worked).

Axanar Productions also announced earlier this year that it was discussing the possibility of selling the assets of the soundstage to a third party (an independent investor group) at a price that would re-pay AXANAR for the crowdfunded money used to finance the build-out.  The end result would be more money for the production of AXANAR.  That deal has not materialized. Instead, the soundstage will be rented to other productions and the resulting revenue will be used to pay the rent of the facility, with the excess going to re-pay AXANAR for the funds used to complete the re-fit of the soundstage.

With regard to paying actors for their work in either PRELUDE TO AXANAR or the speculative scene shot from AXANAR, Axanar Productions is a union signatory and employs actors according to the terms of the appropriate SAG agreements governing these kinds of productions.  In fact, most of the fan films who use SAG members do the same thing (Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Continues both come to mind)."

CBS/Paramount vs. Anaxar Productions

The CBS/Paramount joint suit against Axanar Productions alleges the company infringed on their Star Trek copyright requesting statutory damages of $150K. Axanar responded by filing a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that CBS/Paramount weren’t specific enough in their complaint.

CBS/Paramount responded again with details of their complaint against Axanar Productions in a 48-page document that outlined in painful but sometimes humorous detail all the things that Axanar infringed upon. That’s when Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin tweeted his support for Axanar and contempt for what Paramount is doing. But not all celebrity comments were so kind.

Lin Tweet

WesleyWil Wheaton, the actor who played Wesley Crusher in Next Generation and now an Internet celebrity, took another position about Anaxar Productions in his blog:

[They] raised a TON of money,” Wheaton wrote, “and spent it to build a studio, which will (presumably) be used to turn a profit from other productions once Axanar’s production is completed. They also sold unlicensed coffee, using copyrighted Star Trek names, and have generally been epic douchecanoes about the whole thing.”

Wheaton said Axanar has:

put all fan films at risk, because they exploited the passion and love that Trekkies have for Star Trek to get money, and now they’re acting like they’re innocent victims of big bad CBS. … They are morally and ethically and legally in the wrong.

Just last week a Los Angeles US District Court Judge ruled that Axanar Productions will have to face CBS/Paramount’s copyright infringement lawsuit, based on the new document that specifies the details of the precise CBS/Paramount properties being infringed. However, Axanar owner, Alec Peters is still hopeful Star Trek: Axanar will be produced. In a blog post just last week, he said:

“I am happy to say our trial got moved to Jan 31, 2017… That means, we could win this case and have Axanar back in production March 2017. Yes, we will finish Axanar!

The End of Star Trek as We Know It?


It seems clear that Paramount isn't interested in the Roddenberry vision of Star Trek. Instead of deep character development, philosophical questions and hard science fiction, J.J. Abrams & Paramount seem satisfied making big budget action films. Who can blame them really? Mindless action movies make money. But we're hopeful some future production team, whether in movies or on TV, can strike a balance between the needs of the market while returning Star Trek to its hard science fiction roots. Perhaps the upcoming CBS TV series can offer some hope.

In the meantime, one popular interpretation of the Paramount/CBS lawsuit against Axanar goes like this: Big corporation wants to sue the little guy. It's an easy story that makes CBS/Paramount look like a bully and clearly Axanar benefits from this popular media perception. But ultimately it's up for the court to decide what exactly was infringed and as Alec Peters himself has commented... exactly what is the definition of non-profit fanfiction.

Either way, we want to see a feature-length AXANAR film get made and wish Axanar Productions future success and hope that it inspires more of the same high quality Star Trek fanfiction and maybe motivates Paramount to do better.

The worst-case scenario is that the Axanar lawsuit has a chilling effect across all fanfiction if property owners respond by reeling-in greater legal control of their assets. This could hurt Star Trek's longevity much worse than a run of bad movies. I think all Trek fans would agree, what we really want is for our beloved fictional universe to simply ... live long, and prosper.

Why do some Trek fans think Axanar is bad for all fanfiction? Bad rap, or is Axanar Productions getting the shaft from BIG Corp?  Share your thoughts in the related thread below.



About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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