Tony Black on the repercussions of Star Trek: Axanar…
Well. CBS and Paramount just put a great big giant bat’leth right through the hopes and dreams of many a Star Trek fan looking to make a movie within their beloved franchise, with a brand new set of very clear and to an extent unprecedented stipulations outlining what a fan film can, and importantly, cannot do. Some time ago I wrote about the supposed cancellation of the CBS/Paramount lawsuit against the Axanar fan movie by Alec Peters, following public statements from Star Trek Beyond creatives Justin Lin & JJ Abrams. It stoked some fascinating back and forth (and inevitably petty name calling) about where fans stand on the Axanar issue, and while not only the claims of the lawsuit disappearing may well have been premature, make no mistake: these new fan stipulations are the ripple effect reverberations from the Axanar case hitting the press, the tide of polarised fan reaction to the lawsuit and legality of the Axanar project, and the increasing change in how fans both watch and indeed pay homage to the media they love.
Let’s pick through the ten new regulations set by the legal department of this joint entity and examine how this might affect future fan made Star Trek productions, especially those with the scope of Axanar:
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
It’s no coincidence this is the first one on the list, as it’s probably the biggest change and stipulation. Axanar was intended as a feature-length piece, and the first of a series. Productions like Of Gods and Men run at least the length of a traditional Trek TV episode, and in some cases longer. This first point not only means to discourage productions that would match the length of a Trek TV show or film (and thereby prevent association, or a good fan production being mistaken for either), but also seeks to discourage any kind of long-running fan series. Your idea will have to effectively be a short, or two shorts, and done.
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.
This one is reasonably fair enough. CBS & Paramount want to protect their own copyright material and thereby ensuing Star Trek the name isn’t used as a prefix is fair, even though everyone will blatantly know it’s Trek anyway – especially given the second subtitle stipulation. That feels both like a gratuity the studio are giving fans and also ensuring the fan element is front and centre, so nobody can make any mistake that this isn’t licensed material. It’s not official, and that’ll have to be clear.
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.
A self-explanatory and pretty standard one, with fan films not having rights to use clips from official Star Trek productions, and how they must be original stories. Does this mean original characters though? That will certainly fundamentally change how fan productions work, many of which have often used pre-existing characters the fanbase know, with some even utilising the actors who played those characters on Star Trek.
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.
Now this one immediately makes production fan films harder given this states any costumes or props have to be official merchandise rather than fan-made replicas. Such merch doesn’t come cheap and will immediately make producing any fan film with anything close to the look and feel of Star Trek a lot more financially difficult for many.
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.
Of course this changes fundamentally what major fan productions can do. No more Walter Koenig or Nichelle Nichols popping up on Of Gods and Men or Gary Graham reprising Soval on Axanar. Even if the fan production is funded, nobody can be paid which means it could be harder to source good creative talent. Put simply, with complete amateurs in front of and behind the camera, down will go the quality of any fan production compared to some of the best known and loved.
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.
This is a big one, broken down into sub-sections, all about the crucial factor: these fan films must not make money. Arguably the hullabaloo about Axanar has increased this tenfold in the eyes of CBS & Paramount. You can’t really challenge this one though – fan productions never should have been making a profit anyway, and Axanar‘s biggest mistake was Peters paying people a wage from the Kickstarter funding.
It’s interesting how CBS/Paramount are okay with limited funding however, up to $50,000. In real terms, that buys you a relatively decent level of production but nothing close to the level of Axanar, rivaling the kind of Trek you might see on TV. That’s the underlying point here, hit head on – Axanar showed them up, got a bit too close to their level of skill, and these restrictions are blowback to ensure that never happens again.
The rest here about not making money from the fan film or Star Trek name are fine & understandable. It’s the financial restrictions that are the most Draconian.
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.
I’d like to believe all Star Trek fan films already take this as a given.
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.”
Again, all fair, and underlining the fact these productions are not licensed from CBS/Paramount in any way, so there’s no confusion.
9. Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law.
Once again, no issues here. It’s not their copyright and they shouldn’t be able to register it as such, even if they have used their own creations & concepts.
10. Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures.
Just to finally underscore points 2 and 7 again.
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.
That final statement underlines these restrictions perfectly – they’re not set in stone, they could change, they could even be taken away should they be abused by fans looking to create Star Trek properties. This kind of stipulation exists in all forms of copyright, but it continues hammering home the point.
Put simply, these new guidelines are designed to control the creation of fan material. They would spin these as ways to regulate the Star Trek fan community so they *can* legally create content in that universe, but these restrictions make it almost impossible to do so in the same creative, stylish or effective way technology now allows fans to do. The argument of course is “we should be grateful they’re even letting us do this at all”, and there is some truth to that. The simple fact is though that fans always have, and always will, create their own media within a given mythology or universe they become attached to. Fan fiction is as old as the Bible (it may even *be* the Bible, depending on your point of view!). Fan fiction also has helped keep properties like Trek alive in the dark days when interest has waned, as it has done many other similar shows.
Are these restrictions protecting the violation of copyright or biting the hand that feeds? It’s a debate that may rumble on, especially if the Axanar lawsuit isn’t going anywhere.
Tony Black is a freelance film/TV writer & podcaster & would love you to follow him on Twitter.