If You Want to Make a ‘Star Trek’ Fan Film and Don’t Want to Get Sued by Paramount, These Are the Rules
Just a few months ago, a Star Trek fan film made headlines in a way no one wants their fan film to make headlines: As the target of a lawsuit. Paramount sued the producers of Prelude to Axanar, a Trek fan movie that had raised over $500,000 on Indiegogo, claiming it was infringing on many of their copyrights. They were almost certainly correct, but the story got a lot of negative attention, as stories about big conglomerates suing the pants off underdog artists and individuals often do.
In response to the controversy, CBS and Paramount have now posted a full list of 10 guidelines that all future Star Trek fan films must follow in order to avoid potential legal action at StarTrek.com. Some are pretty obvious, like don’t try to make money off your fan film or try to copyright your film. Some are a little more surprising and a little more restrictive. You can raise money for a budget, but no more than $50,000. You can’t make anything longer than 30 minutes, and you can’t tell stories over the course of “seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.” You can’t share your work in any physical format like DVDs or Blu-rays. And your fan film must be “family friendly and suitable for public presentation,” with a long list of things that are considered verboten including “profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity.” (So does that mean no Romulan Ale?)
Some of these rules will not go down well with fan filmmakers, particularly the ones about length and ongoing stories; I’ve seen smatterings of Trek fan work that was envisioned as part of entire seasons of material. I guess physical media is dead nowadays anyway, but I would think if I spent $50,000 on a really good fan film and I wanted to give someone a copy on DVD (not sell them a copy, obviously, just give them one) then that doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal. Technically, that could get you sued under these rules. And that is certainly Paramount’s legal right. No matter how possessive fans feel towards Star Trek, they’re the ones who actually do own it.
Of course, that would require Paramount to enforce these rules, and I would be shocked if they started going after every person who had a DVD copy of their otherwise perfectly acceptable Star Trek fan film. This is all being laid out now so that in the future when someone really breaks the rules by raising an obscene amount of money or trying to pass itself off as authorized Star Trek content, the guilty parties can’t claim ignorance. At least that’s what I assume. Suing every single person who tries to show their love for your intellectual property would be most illogical. In the meantime, the next Star Trek non-fan film, Star Trek Beyond, opens in theaters on July 22.