At a publicity event at Paramount Studios yesterday evening, Star Trek directors JJ Abrams and Justin Lin were being interviewed on stage by Adam Savage of Mythbusters fame about the upcoming Paramount Pictures film, Star Trek: Beyond. The subject changed to the law suit leveled jointly by CBS and Paramount against Alec Peters and Axanar Productions, the hopeful creators of a new fan Trek film called Axanar. From Abram’s statement, Paramount will be dropping the suit. Here’s the money quote:
A few months back there was a fan movie and this lawsuit that happened between the studio and these fans, and Justin was sort of outraged by this as a longtime fan. We started talking about it and realized this wasn’t an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans of Star Trek are part of this world. We went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit. Within a few weeks, it’ll be announced that this lawsuit is going away.
The statement was greeted with thunderous applause from the audience.
On December 29, 2015, Paramount and CBS joined together in a copyright suit against the film Axanar, a Kickstarter-funded fan project helmed by Alec Peters. An enormous sum of money had been raised (something over a million dollars all together), and though the world had only seen the 20-minute Prelude to Axanar in 2014, the law suit sought to recover damages from the as yet unmade full length feature to the tune of $150,000 for each individual alleged copyright infringement in it. The initial complaint did not even specify exactly what these supposed infringements were. Federal Judge Gary Klausner had them rewrite their complaint so that it did, yet the “hundreds of infringements” claimed by the plaintiffs manifested as only dozens of identified elements.
One of these elements kicked up a significant firestorm. It was the Klingon language itself, and the Language Creation Society offered an amicus brief which strongly asserted that languages cannot be copyrighted, and provided significant example case law to support the thesis. The judge denied the admission of the amicus brief, but did so without prejudice. This meant that at a later point in the law suit, the amicus brief might have been reintroduced.
Another film, Star Trek: Horizons, had a sequel in the works. Tommy Kraft, the producer / director of the film, stated that CBS had approached him and told him in no uncertain terms that he was to give up any thoughts of making another Trek fan film, and that the Axanar situation had direct bearing. Kraft hadn’t done much preproduction, if any, so it was easy enough for him to acquiesce, but CBS was, by their own admission, using the Axanar case as a bludgeon to make their point.
Shortly after the JJ Abrams announcement, Axanar Productions issued the following statement:
While we’re grateful to receive the public support of JJ Abrams and Justin Lin, as the lawsuit remains pending, we want to make sure we go through all the proper steps to make sure all matters are settled with CBS and Paramount. Our goal from the beginning of this legal matter has been to address the concerns of the plaintiffs in a way that still allows us to tell the story of AXANAR and meets the expectations of the over 10,000 fans who financially supported our project.
There is still a lot of work to do, but receiving this kind of public support helps immensely.
CBS and Paramount may yet exact some concessions from Axanar Productions. All we can do now is wait to find out what they’ll be, if any. The ramifications are profound. In particular, this should take much of the anxiety from the hearts of makers of fan films who worry that whichever studio owns their property might jump on them with a law suit at any time. Unfortunately, it also means that the question of whether the Klingon language can, in fact, be copyrighted, will remain unanswered for now.
JJ Abrams announced the end of the Paramount/CBS and Axanar lawsuit tonight at the Star Trek event.
I know nothing about Axanar, who was right or wrong and quite frankly don’t care, I have no stake in it. What I DO care about is how it affects fans, fan films and our Bridge Restoration and Sci-Fi Museum.
I think CBS learned a valuable lesson: Not to disregard, underestimate or piss off the fans. We have over a million Trekkies a week looking at our Facebook pages, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.
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