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Giving Star Trek Fanfilms The Axanar

Once again, my background and history with fan projects brings all the boys to the yard, asking what I think.

...so...Star Trek: Axanar....

CBS and Paramount have been studying the fan film situation for Star Trek for a long time now, and have been trying to figure out how to balance the goodwill of the fandom with their control.  But producer Alec Peters came bouncing up and just kept thwacking the beehive, forcing them to take some sort of action.  In doing so, Peters has potentially ruined Star Trek fan films for everyone.  Well, sort of, I'll get to that in a minute.  But on paper, he screwed everyone over, such as possilby Star Trek: New Voyages.  He pushed too hard, and now CBS and Paramount are shoving back, with neither side aiming for the happy medium.

Here's a little free advice to Peters -- there's an old Polish proverb that says, "When you play around with matches, you shouldn't be surprised if you accidentally light one."  And here's another -- "Whatever hits the fan will not be distributed evenly."

Peters main argument against CBS and Paramount's lawsuit is that fan films are allowed because neither of them said they weren't.  There are no rules established, so there are no rules to abide by.  Well, he got his wish.  The officlal Star Trek site has now listed a set of rules that, while they won't endorse Trek fan films, will keep them from being seen as a threat and inviting a lawsuit.  And almost every last item seems to specifically target Axanar and Peters.  And poetentially cause a lot of collateral damage.

Let's start with the very first thing on the list -- "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."  This is going to fuck up a LOT of fan productions, including New Voyages, which has played nice all this time.  It also means the very funny Red Shirt Diaries would have to stop because it was more than two segments.  I'm wondering what will happen to them.

"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 is kind of common sense, but a clear indication that Paramount and CBS are worried, since it forces fan films to identify themselves as fan films.

"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."  Once again, pretty common sense.  No remixing original footage like the DS9 episode that took place during The Trouble With Tribbles, and no scoring the production with Lady Gaga.

"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."  Seems kind of pointless, but once again, CBS and Paramount were accused of not having hard and fast rules.  Well, here's hard and fast for you, bitch.

"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."  Ouch.  This one really hurts.  A lot of people who have been involved in Trek have popped up in fan productions.  Not only that, but that means no SAG members, and potentially someone who worked The Star Trek Experience a few years ago would be legally barred from appealing.  Compensation isn't just money, either, it's meals and hotels and transportation and such.

Actually, the compensation part ties into the biggest complaint against Axanar and the part that people like me speculate led to the lawsuit in the first place -- Peters and his partners were going to get compensated for Axanar in the form of their own film production company.  Remember, they used the Kickstarter funds to set things up, the studio would still exist and be in operation after production wrapped.  Basically, they did an end run around the system, and this is to smack them down.

"The fan production must be non-commercial:"  TL;DR -- if you fundraise instead of ponying up yourself, you have an upper limit of $50K.  This includes platform fees.  Distribution cannot raise revenue, so only torrents or streaming with no ads whatsoever unless the ads are not associated with the fan production.  So running it on YouTube and Daily Motion is safe (and probably there so that, if CBS and/or Paramount claim the video, they can put ads over it and claim revenue for themselves if they desire), but no physical media like DVD or Blu-ray.  Because it's easy to doctor the books and skim money from that.  No offering props and such as rewards for donating, either, unless it is officially licensed merch.

"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."  NO PORN, GODDAMMIT!!!  Other than that, implied sex and drinking is okay as long as you don't call attention to it.  The "right of privacy" seems to be there to give people who have second thoughts a way out.

"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.”"  Standard boilerplate used to protect trademarks, since not rigidly enforcing THAT weakens any future claims.  Once again, common sense stuff.

"Creators of fan productions must not seek to register their works, nor any elements of the works, under copyright or trademark law."  Can you say, "Ken Penders?"  I knew you could!
"Fan productions cannot create or imply any association or endorsement by CBS or Paramount Pictures."  No ego stroking.

And, of course, is the standard boilerplate about CBS and Paramount being free to change these terms at any time and even if something isn't covered at the moment, they still reserve the right to object, saying, "You never said that!" won't work.  This is also a potential out for New Voyages and Continues, since it is still up to CBS and Paramount whether or not to take action if you step outside the lines (which, legally, it always has been, this just makes that explicit).  They could continue to ignore them with surgical striking things like Axanar that raise $1 mil in funding and are being used to jumpstart a film production company.

Some fans are up in arms about this, saying that, if Paramount and CBS would just make good Trek, the fans wouldn't have to take matters into their own hands.  Uh, legally, Star Trek isn't owned by the fans, it is owned by CBS and Paramount.  What they are arguing is akin to me saying I don't like how someone is writing and drawing Spider-Man, so I'm going to show them how it's done.  There's an arrogance to this argument that frankly disturbs me.

True story (and one I admit with some shame) -- being that I am primarily a writer, I never understood the big deal over comic book companies not giving original artwork back to creators.  Then I started drawing my Stress Puppy comic strip and comics like Sound Waves.  And suddenly, I very much understood what the big deal was.  It seems a lot of people that are arguing that Axanar should be allowed to do what they want have never created something and found themselves facing the fear that they would lose control or even ownership of it.

It all boils down to the same thing I've said when I discussed this previously -- Star Trek is owned by CBS and Paramount.  It's theirs.  Not mine, not yours, theirs.  And they can be as inconsistent as they want when enforcing their copyrights.  I've done plenty of fan stuff, not the least of which is the Doctor Whooves mash-up comics I do on Christmas Day on Bleeding Cool.  Hasbro and the BBC have never said a word about it, but that doesn't mean they never will.  Even if I play by the rules, Hasbro or the Beeb may eventually decide the party's over and shut me down.  And all I can do is take my gear, say, "It's been giggles," and go home, as I don't own any of it.

Bottom line -- Peters tried to get slick, and was counting on fan pressure to create a personal army and defend him as he started his own business without getting a license.  He didn't think he would become a target, and he guessed wrong.  And now, innocent bystanders are in the way of the swinging axe.

Peters isn't a champion of the fandom.  He's the class clown that got the entire class extra homework for acting like an asshole.

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