This has been a lousy week for fans of Star Trek.
First, there was this past weekend’s sudden, accidental death of actor Anton Yelchin, who plays Chekov in the revamped movie series. With the upcoming release of Star Trek Beyond, it’s hard not to think that the JJ-Abrams produced series might conclude with this film. A lackluster first trailer did little to excite audiences; so much so that writer and co-star Simon Pegg criticized it publicly.
So, with a new film premiering next month and the franchise celebrating it’s 50th anniversary, you’d think that Paramount/CBS would be doing everything they can to get audiences excited.
Well, as of today, they did. Only not in a good way.
For the past several months, the team behind the upcoming fan film Star Trek: Axanar has been in limbo.
Beginning in 2014, producers Carter Smith, Neal Fischer and Jhennifer Webberley, teamed with co-writer Alec Peters and co-writer and director Christian Gossett to create Prelude to Axanar, a documentary styled short about the surrounding the Battle of Axanar, a major clash between the Federation and the Klingons two decades prior to the time period of the Original Series.
With a cast that included Richard Hatch, Tony Todd, Kate Vernon, JG Hertzler and Gary Graham, Prelude to Axanar was produced with a budget of $80,000 raised on Kickstarter.
The success of Prelude to Axanar led directly to the production of a feature film, Star Trek: Axanar, to be directed by Robert Meyer Burnett.
This production raised $638,000 on Kickstarter and was in pre-production when on December 29, 2015, CBS and Paramount Pictures filed for an injunction and damages in the US District Court for the Central District of California.
In their opinion, Axanar infringed on their rights by making use of the Klingon language and “innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes.”
Axanar Productions didn’t sit back, filing a motion to dismiss or strike Paramount and CBS’s claims on on March 28, 2016. Axanar Productions believed the elements mentioned in the court filing are not protected by copyright and it is seeking premature relief from a work, the Axanar film, that does not exist.
After decades of Paramount allowing fan films, suddenly the studio and it’s fans were at odds. That is until J.J. Abrams announced that Paramount would drop the lawsuit “within the next few weeks.” It had been rumored that Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin had convinced Abrams to step in and that he pushed the studio to stop the lawsuit because “we realized this is not the appropriate way to deal with the fans.”
Yet, despite these claims, nothing was announced until today when CBS & Paramount released their fan film guidelines:
CBS and Paramount Pictures are big believers in reasonable fan fiction and fan creativity, and, in particular, want amateur fan filmmakers to showcase their passion for Star Trek. Therefore, CBS and Paramount Pictures will not object to, or take legal action against, Star Trek fan productions that are non-professional and amateur and meet the following guidelines.
Guidelines for Avoiding Objections:
1. The fan production must be less than 15 minutes for a single self-contained story, or no more than 2 segments, episodes or parts, not to exceed 30 minutes total, with no additional seasons, episodes, parts, sequels or remakes.
2. The title of the fan production or any parts cannot include the name “Star Trek.” However, the title must contain a subtitle with the phrase: “A STAR TREK FAN PRODUCTION” in plain typeface. The fan production cannot use the term “official” in either its title or subtitle or in any marketing, promotions or social media for the fan production.
3. The content in the fan production must be original, not reproductions, recreations or clips from any Star Trek production. If non-Star Trek third party content is used, all necessary permissions for any third party content should be obtained in writing.
4. If the fan production uses commercially-available Star Trek uniforms, accessories, toys and props, these items must be official merchandise and not bootleg items or imitations of such commercially available products.
5. The fan production must be a real “fan” production, i.e., creators, actors and all other participants must be amateurs, cannot be compensated for their services, and cannot be currently or previously employed on any Star Trek series, films, production of DVDs or with any of CBS or Paramount Pictures’ licensees.
6. The fan production must be non-commercial:
• CBS and Paramount Pictures do not object to limited fundraising for the creation of a fan production, whether 1 or 2 segments and consistent with these guidelines, so long as the total amount does not exceed $50,000, including all platform fees, and when the $50,000 goal is reached, all fundraising must cease.
• The fan production must only be exhibited or distributed on a no-charge basis and/or shared via streaming services without generating revenue
• The fan production cannot be distributed in a physical format such as DVD or Blu-ray.
• The fan production cannot be used to derive advertising revenue including, but not limited to, through for example, the use of pre or post-roll advertising, click-through advertising banners, that is associated with the fan production.
• No unlicensed Star Trek-related or fan production-related merchandise or services can be offered for sale or given away as premiums, perks or rewards or in connection with the fan production fundraising.
• The fan production cannot derive revenue by selling or licensing fan-created production sets, props or costumes.
7. The fan production must be family friendly and suitable for public presentation. Videos must not include profanity, nudity, obscenity, pornography, depictions of drugs, alcohol, tobacco, or any harmful or illegal activity, or any material that is offensive, fraudulent, defamatory, libelous, disparaging, sexually explicit, threatening, hateful, or any other inappropriate content. The content of the fan production cannot violate any individual’s right of privacy.
8. The fan production must display the following disclaimer in the on-screen credits of the fan productions and on any marketing material including the fan production website or page hosting the fan production: “Star Trek and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-made film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition or distribution is permitted. No alleged independent rights will be asserted against CBS or Paramount Pictures.”
9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.
CBS and Paramount Pictures reserve the right to revise, revoke and/or withdraw these guidelines at any time in their own discretion. These guidelines are not a license and do not constitute approval or authorization of any fan productions or a waiver of any rights that CBS or Paramount Pictures may have with respect to fan fiction created outside of these guidelines.
I spoke to Robert Meyer Burnett, who not only edited Prelude to Axanar but also was slated to direct the feature film. Known as a passionate Trek fan, Burnett previously wrote and directed Free Enterprise starring William Shatner and has written,produced and directed DVD/Blu-ray content for a number of films including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Superman Returns, The Usual Suspects and Tron.
“Without consultation with the very people they’re imposing guidelines upon, CBS and Paramount have completely destroyed the great future works of some of Star Trek‘s biggest and most life-long fans, who express their love for the Star Trek franchise through tireless creativity and industrious passion, with no hope of return other then sharing that passion with fellow fans and the greater world around them. Star Trek fandom is singular. There’s never been anything like it in the history of humanity. With these fan film guidelines, the current rights holders, who INHERITED those rights back in 2005, have effectively put a cap on the very fandom which kept the franchise alive for half a century. What a way to celebrate Star Trek‘s 50th Anniversary.“
Also disappointed by the news was novelist David Gerrold who worked on the original series (writing the famous episode, “The Trouble With Tribbles”) and has been involved with the Animated Series, The Next Generation and various fan series including Star Trek: Phase II and Star Trek: Axanar.
“Gene Roddenberry respected the fans. He loved their enthusiasm. He regarded Star Trek as an adventure for all of us. We had many conversations about fan participation, so I think I’m on solid ground to say that I do not think he would have approved such restrictive guidelines. Yes, Paramount and CBS must protect their intellectual property, but as written these guidelines would put almost all of the very best fan films made to date on the wrong side of the line. Parts of these guidelines need to be reconsidered. They’re not fair to the fans.”
As for Axanar (which specifically violates several of the statutes that CBS & Paramount announced)? A new trailer was released this week and Burnett commented on an interesting response on Twitter:
James T. Kirk, my favorite fictional hero, taught me everything I know about following rules. “The word is no. I am therefore going anyway.”
— Robert Meyer Burnett (@BurnettRM) June 23, 2016
It will be interesting what kind of damage control, if any, CBS & Paramount will do, as their fan film response seems quite limiting for a series that only encouraged imagination.
“…Certainly the loveliest happening of all for us was the fact that so many others began to feel the same way [about Star Trek as we did]. Television viewers by the millions began to take Star Trek to heart as their own personal optimistic view of the Human condition and future. They fought for the show, honored it, cherished it, wrote about it–and have continued to do their level best to make certain that it will live again.
…We were particularly amazed when thousands, then tens of thousands of people began creating their own personal Star Trek adventures. Stories, and paintings, and sculptures, and cookbooks. And songs, and poems, and fashions. And more. The list is still growing. It took some time for us to fully understand and appreciate what these people were saying. Eventually we realized that there is no more profound way in which people could express what Star Trek has meant to them than by creating their own very personal Star Trek things.
Because I am a writer, it was their Star Trek stories that especially gratified me. I have seen these writings in dog-eared notebooks of fans who didn’t look old enough to spell “cat.” I have seen them in meticulously produced fanzines, complete with excellent artwork. Some of it has even been done by professional writers, and much of it has come from those clearly on their way to becoming professional writers. Best of all, all of it was plainly done with love.
It is now a source of great joy for me to see their view of Star Trek, their new Star Trek stories, reaching professional publication here. I want to thank these writers, congratulate them on their efforts, and wish them good fortune on these and further of their voyages into other times and dimensions. Good writing is always a very personal thing and comes from the writer’s deepest self. Star Trek was that kind of writing for me, and it moves me profoundly that it has also become so much a part of the inner self of so many other people.
Viewers like this have proved that there is a warm, loving, and intelligent lifeform out there–and that it may even be the dominant species on this planet.
That is the highest compliment and the greatest repayment that they could give us.”
– Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry,
from his introduction to Star Trek: The New Voyages,
published by Bantam Books, 1976