Paramount Beams Producers of ‘Star Trek’ Fan Films Up to Court
For the most part, fan-fiction is all in good fun. Nobody can possibly fault diehard devotees of certain books, movies or TV shows for wanting to get involved in the fictional universes that capture their imagination, and if anything, perhaps they should be praised for channeling their passions into a creative, productive outlet. Excepting the fan-fiction that includes weird sex stuff (of which there is quite a bit), nobody gets hurt, and in a way, it could even be considered free publicity for the texts on which it’s based. But the low-stakes world of fan-fiction only works when it remains just that; a place for enthusiasts to share in their fandom. Once fan-fiction begins to take itself a little more seriously, and expand more aggressively, and accrue support from studios and major distributors, and, most importantly, make money, then play-time is over.
Deadline reports that Paramount has moved to take legal action against the parties responsible for Axanar, a self-proclaimed “groundbreaking independent Star Trek film.” Filed on Wednesday, the suit is intended to block the film’s producers from marketing, selling, or otherwise generate any cold hard cash off of this property. This may seem like a disproportionately extreme reaction — after all, it’s just fan-fiction, what can they possibly do? Except that the Axanar team has already raised nearly $1 million in financing for their planned full-length film. That’s not bored-kids-being-creative money. That’s real-ass money.
The suit enumerates the clearly defined offenses committed by the Axanar producers, claiming that they’ve wholesale jacked many of the proprietary elements of the Star Trek universe. Or, in legalese: “The Axanar works infringe plaintiffs’ works by using innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes... The Axanar works are intended to be professional-quality productions that, by defendants’ own admission, unabashedly take Paramount’s and CBS’s intellectual property and aim to ‘look and feel like a true Star Trek movie.’ On information and belief, defendants have raised over $1 million so far to produce these works, including building out a studio and hiring actors, set designers, and costume designers. The Axanar works are substantially similar to, and unauthorized derivative works of, plaintiffs’ Star Trek television series and movies, in contravention of the copyright laws of the United States.”
To this, producer Alex Peters had a rather snippy response: “We’re doing what other fan films have done for 30 years. Maybe CBS feels threatened by the quality of what we’re doing.” And he’s right! That’s exactly correct. Most fan-fiction is so bad, nobody would dream of paying for it, and so there’s no real consequence in the blatant ripping-off of copyrighted ideas and images. But when fan-fiction takes on the sheen of professionalism and runs the risk of being mistaken for the genuine article, that’s when problems begin to arise. So, yes, CBS feels threatened that the public won’t be able to tell the difference between the real McCoy and this well-funded cover version, which, when you get down to it, is a pretty reasonable thing to worry about.