Star Trek Legend David Gerrold chimes in on the CBS lawsuit vs. Axanar.
So let me talk about the lawsuit against Axanar, by CBS and Paramount.
I will qualify my remarks by saying I have no dog in this particular fight, I am only a knowledgeable observer.
I’ve known several people in the Paramount legal department, most of whom were honorable. I also have known several fan film productions, most of whom were not only honorable but enthusiastic about Star Trek in a way that should embarrass some of the people who were paid to produce actual episodes of the series.
That said, I think the lawsuit was filed without sufficient consideration of the situation.
Fans have been making Star Trek fan films — and crowdfunding them — for fifteen years. There’s Star Trek New Voyages, Star Trek Farragut, Star Trek Renegads, Star Trek Continues, and probably a few others I’m unaware of. These are all recreations of the original series, with fan actors playing Kirk, Spock, McCoy et al. These are all filmed on recreations of the original series bridge and corridors and other sets. They are filmed with replicas of props, costumes, makeup, and set design. They are such accurate recreations of the original series that bootleggers overseas have sold copies of the episodes as if they are the real thing.
All of the fan film productions operate under the same general guideline — have fun, but you’re not allowed to make a profit. So all of the fan film productions are freely available on YouTube.
Part of the reason so many professionals, like myself, have participated in fan productions is the desire to make and see more Star Trek. Those who were too young (or not born yet) to participate in the original series, have come to the fan productions as an opportunity to be a part of the magic.
All of this has to be seen as a measure of the kind of enthusiasm that Star Trek fans have and that should be available to any new Star Trek movie or TV series.
Now, Axanar — Axanar is not a recreation of the original series. It’s about a battle referred to in passing, in only one episode of the original series. It’s about a minor character in one episode and how he became a Starfleet legend. It does not take place on the Enterprise. It does not use any of the characters of the original series. Its closest relationship to the original series is that it takes place in the same universe, many years before Kirk and Spock.
Now … I am not a lawyer and I have not been approached by either side to function as either a consultant or an expert witness (although, if this ever goes to trial, I expect I will be called in) — but, if Axanar represents an infringement on the copyrights of Paramount and CBS, then so does Star Trek New Voyages, Star Trek Farragut, Star Trek Renegades, and Star Trek Continues. And whoever else.
Based on the number of views that all these separate iterations have earned worldwide — possibly more than a hundred million — Paramount and CBS could file for damages of a billion dollars.
And the resulting fannish firestorm would go on for years.
As I have heard the story, the first New Voyages episode was a private adventure, never intended for internet distribution. But one of the participants did upload it to YouTube — and shortly thereafter, James Cawley received a call from Paramount legal, the gist of which was: “Have fun, but don’t sell tickets, don’t sell copies, don’t make a profit.”
Now, that was smart, it recognized fannish enthusiasm — but at the same time, it planted the seeds for today’s situation, because it created a de facto license for all Star Trek fan films.
Which brings us to the lawsuit against Axanar. The lawyers have to prove two things:
1) That this fan film represents a significant usage of Paramount/CBS’s property.
2) Axanar is a profit-making enterprise. (Ohell, it isn’t even THE Enterprise.)
Both will be hard to prove, especially the latter, because of all the fan films, Axanar has been the most transparent with its fund-raising and its accounting.
There is a third point that would likely be made in such a court case:
If Axanar represents a threat to the copyright, why haven’t Paramount and CBS taken steps to shut down New Voyages, Farragut, Renegades, and Continues? What makes Axanar different? What makes Axanar a threat?
Paramount/CBS’s response would likely be that Axanar represents a professional level of production. Well, yes — but so does New Voyages. (I can’t speak for any of the others on that, although I do know that many professionals have been involved with Continues and Renegades.)
There is a way out of this mess — and if people on all sides of this are smart — it could be resolved in a matter of days.
Lucasfilm is the model. They created an award for fan films and even arranged licensing and distribution.
Paramount/CBS should do the same. There are people at CBS who would love to put out a DVD or Blu-ray distribution of Star Trek fan films, but have so far been unable to get approval for the idea. But it’s a good idea. An official distribution of fan films would generate money for both the copyright owners and for the filmmakers to use in future efforts. The fan-films would be officially licensed as fan productions.
To make this work, the studio would have to hire a qualified liaison to work with various fan films to make sure that they follow appropriate guidelines and in return would receive the blessings of legal distribution and protection.
By keeping the fan films in a specific licensed venue, a kind of voluntary garden, Paramount and CBS would benefit from the good publicity of being seen to promote and foster great fan efforts — the fans would benefit from having a specific legal venue for their individual productions.
Yes, there would be a lot of paperwork to be settled — and I expect the cooperation of various Guilds might be necessary as well — but the goal here is to produce a win-win situation for everyone, but especially for the fans.
Because if it weren’t for the fans and their loyalty for the past 49 years, there wouldn’t have been a franchise in the first place.
Feel free to share.
David Gerrold (born January 24, 1944) is an American science fiction screenwriter and novelist known for his script for the popular original Star Trek episode “The Trouble With Tribbles“, for creating the Sleestak race on the TV series Land of the Lost, and for his novelette “The Martian Child“, which won both Hugo and Nebula awards, and was adapted into a 2007 film starring John Cusack.