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Paramount, Axanar File New Motions in Star Trek Fan Film Lawsuit

star-trek-axanarEarlier this year producer JJ "lens flare" Abrams shocked everyone when he announced that the infringement lawsuit Paramount had filed against a Star Trek fan film was "going away". (Even the defendants were shocked; that was the first they had heard of a settlement.)

Alas, the report was soon revealed to be little more than wishful thinking when Paramount filed a new motion about a month later, and now it is clear that both Paramount and the defendant, Axanar, are in this for the long haul.

TorrentFreak and HollywooReporter have each reported that the two parties sparred last week with new legal motions.

On Thursday, the defendant brought a motion to compel discovery.

Among what’s being demanded are all communications between Paramount/CBS and Abrams and Lin about fan films and this very lawsuit.

Axanar explains the basis for the request to the judge.

"Statements that Star Trek belongs to all of us and that the lawsuit is ridiculous and was going to be 'dropped' is relevant to the impact on the market prong of the fair use analysis, and Plaintiffs utter lack of damages," write defendants' lawyers. "Though these documents and deposition testimony are directly relevant to demonstrating the impact of the Axanar Works on the market for the Star Trek Copyrighted Works, and Plaintiffs’ allegations of willful infringement, Plaintiffs have either refused to produce, or produced insufficient documents."

Paramount is objecting that the document request is overly broad, unduly burdensome and irrelevant.

"First, statements made in May of 2016, six months after the filing of this suit, could not possibly have any bearing on Defendants’ ‘state of mind’ when they created the infringing works," responds Paramount’s lawyers. "Second, Defendants have provided no authority for the proposition that their subjective 'belief' has any bearing on whether or not they committed copyright infringement, or on whether or not Plaintiffs’ were damaged by that infringing conduct."

During a Star Trek fan event in May Abrams had told the audience that the case would be over soon, citing discussions with Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin. “We started talking about this realizing that this is not an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans should be celebrating this thing,” Abrams said. “So Justin went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced this is going away.”

Obviously that hasn’t happened, and now Axanar is using Abrams' statement against Paramount. He is hardly an official spokesperson or copyright agent for Paramount, but Axanar’s lawyers are characterizing Abrams and director Justin Lin as Star Trek "ambassadors" in their filings, and are using the statement to rebut the charge of "willful infringement" with the argument that Axanar’s filmmakers had a reasonable basis for believing that their fan-funded film would be fine by the studios.

And they did have a reasonable expectation; Paramount has green-lighted or at least turned a blind eye to past fan projects, and reportedly approved had turned a bind eye on the Star Trek Axanar movie (right up until they didn’t).

The only major difference between Axanar and past Star Trek fan films was the scale of the work, and how many people were getting paid. Axanar had raised over a million dollars and was planning to produce a cinema quality work.

The level of funding may have been what lead Paramount to lay down ground rules for fan films which effectively killed any future work like Axanar. Paramount is within their right do do so, but –

Objecting to one work (after allowing a similar work) because it is better funded is an artificial distinction which may or may not have any relevance in court.

Paramount’s past decisions could come back to haunt them, and of course there’s still the open question of fair use.

Yes, Axanar is based on and uses elements from Star Trek canon, but is that infringement or fair use?

I wouldn’t make any firm declarations one way or the other until judges weigh in, because this case could go either way and it will likely end up before the Supreme Court.

This case could set new precedents for fair use, and it bears watching.

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poiboy October 2, 2016 um 5:24 pm

this is sad and unfortunate. after watching the trailer/early scenes on youtube, it looked excellent. too bad paramount couldn’t have done the nicer thing and grouped in with the Axanar people and done their fans a gesture of good fun and shared profits. but instead it gets junked up with intellectual property laws.

the darth maul fan film didn’t seem to get any aggressive backlash from disney/lucasfilm..


Syn October 2, 2016 um 10:44 pm

I don’t see what the difference between this and Star Trek Continues. They have a studio that’s a replica (and very good replica) of TOS Enterprise. They have crowd funded to make new shows for years. They even continued Apollo’s story from TOS. I wonder if they can have a double standard? Why haven’t they shut them down?

Frank October 3, 2016 um 9:56 am

Star Trek Continues did recently release an episode, but it was filmed before the fan guidelines so Paramount allowed it. Unless things change, that series may not continue.

Shirley Dulcey October 2, 2016 um 11:11 pm

For me, the availability of Axanar would not have had any effect on my interest in seeing the official Star Trek productions.

On the other hand, the UNavailability of Axanar HAS had an effect on my interest. I dislike CBS and Paramount’s heavy handed actions against fan productions, and I am boycotting all official Trek productions until such time as they reverse their decision. And at this point they would have to do one more thing: pay for all the legal costs and delays that Axanar has incurred so that the fans who crowdfunded it will actually get to see the film they want to see.

As for Star Trek Continues (as well as Star Trek: Phase II), the new guidelines HAVE shut them down. They will not be able to make any additional episodes. The guidelines prohibit ongoing series, the use of any cast members or writers who have been involved in any official Trek productions, and episodes longer than 15 minutes. Both have violated all three of those restrictions, and cannot continue in anything resembling their current form.

Other fan productions have also been affected. Star Trek: Renegades is reworking itself to remove all Star Trek references (and being renamed simply Renegades). The plans for Blood of Tiberius and for a sequel to Star Trek Horizon have been cancelled.

Joe Sewell October 3, 2016 um 1:44 am

The real problem is that Axanar went overboard bragging about their non-work. While the others were happy to be a part of an ignored area, Axanar’s bravado was loud, clear, and offensive to Paramount and CBS. Their words implied that they were taking the helm, so to speak, from the owners. Alex Peters made enough noise to make many enemies on both sides of the fight that they themselves started. This continued arrogance will likely shut down the idea that current projects may continue. Peters wants it all, or poison the whole pool if they don’t. Well done, "Captain Garth," you’ve destroyed everything yet again.

Chris Meadows October 3, 2016 um 10:18 pm

See, this is why it’s a good idea not to shoot your mouth off outside of the courtroom about lawsuits you’re in any way related to. The other side can end up using it against you—even if you were only trying to help.

Bob Tudley October 4, 2016 um 9:15 am

"Paramount has green-lighted or at least turned a blind eye to past fan projects, and reportedly approved the Star Trek Axanar movie (right up until they didn’t)."

Reported by whom? Not the website The Wrap, which reported several months before the lawsuit that CBS emphatically did not want Axanar to continue.

There’s also the fact that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of donor perk patches have not yet been mailed out but they’re selling other products through their donor store. Only $80 or so for an unlicenced Star Trek starship model kit, for example.

Axanar presented itself from the beginning as an independent professional production, not a fan film, and it has used Star Trek IP to raise money for a for-profit business. No one else has done that, and that’s why there will never be a Star Trek: Axanar movie.

Well, that’s one reason. There’d still be no Axanar right now if the lawsuit had never been filed. Most of the people who made Prelude to Axanar have abandoned the project for a variety of reasons. Axanar has been unable to send perks out, it has been unable to come up with a working alternative to the standard crowdfunding perk management software, it has been unable to finish building its sets, and none of that is due to the lawsuit. All that’s been done since Prelude is a pretty but badly written short green-screen scene and a couple of embarrassingly bad trailers.

Nate Hoffelder October 4, 2016 um 10:20 am

Okay,so "approved" was the wrong word. I’ll change the article.

But as that article in The Wrap says, Paramount did know about Axanar and it looked like they were going to turn a blind eye to it.

Bob Tudley October 13, 2016 um 10:07 am

The article in the Wrap quotes an unnamed spokesperson as saying very clearly that they told Axanar not to continue and they were looking at their options.

Note that when CBS or Paramount has told actual fan film producers not to do certain things (like use Norman Spinrad’s unproduced Star Trek script as the basis for a fan film), fan film producers say oh, okay, we won’t do that. Axanar didn’t listen.

Shirley Dulcey October 4, 2016 um 10:59 am

Clearly, I fundamentally disagree with a lot of the people who have made comments here.

The key question is whether Axanar ever intended to actually make a Star Trek film. It’s clear that a lot of you believe that they did not, and that the whole thing was just a scam to build a studio. I believe that they actually intended to make the film while also building a studio, which isn’t the same thing. But then actually making the film got shut down because of the legal threat.

They also went overboard with the merch. But I think people missed a key point in my comment about that restriction. If you crowdfund a film project, there are two types of perks that are typically offered: copies of the film that you funded (DVD or Blu-Ray) and some form of commemorative item (T shirt, tote bag, etc.). Although the new guidelines allow crowdfunding up to $50,000, they forbid giving out any of the perks that people would expect from such a crowdfunding campaign, and thus effectively cut off that method of funding even for the projects of limited scope that CBS and Paramount are willing to tolerate.

People have noted that Axanar hasn’t sent out its promised perks. But nobody seems to have noticed that sending them would violate the new rules.

Bob Tudley October 13, 2016 um 10:03 am

The new guidelines apply to new productions. Fan films already in production are allowed to finish. But then, as Alec Peters kept saying in his annual report and elsewhere, Axanar was not a fan film but an independent professional production. If you read the court filings from CBS/Paramount’s lawyers, they specifically point to that claim as one of the reasons for the lawsuit.

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