Franchises like Star Trek and Star Wars have a long tradition of allowing “Fan films” to be produced using their intellectual property. But while LucasFilm put out guidelines for makers of fan films years ago for their Star Wars franchise, Paramount (and now CBS) have avoided ever putting anything in print. Since fans had been allowed to produce and distribute fan films for decades though, most assumed everything was okay.
Well… not so much anymore.
THR is reporting that Paramount and CBS (who currently owns Star Trek) have filed suit against the producers of the highly anticipated Axanar fan film. Axanar notably raised over a million dollars between Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and is set 20 years prior to the original Star Trek TV series.
While productions like Axanar may look much more professional than the fan films of old, it’s because the people making it are largely professionals. Technology has also progressed to the point where costs to make a quality fan film are just a fraction of what they were twenty years ago. Paramount and CBS clearly feel threatened though, and are doing what most would consider pretty ridiculous — suing some of their most loyal fans.
CBS has gotten more aggressive with fan productions of late, as while the Axanar related Prelude to Axanar remains live on Youtube, fellow fan production Star Trek: Renegades had their pilot episode pulled from the service for “commercially deceptive” content.
The entire thing smacks of shortsightedness, and if it goes to trial may finally settle some of the non-commercial fair use arguments around fan films. Rights holders have always insisted that fan films technically violated their copyrights, but that’s never been challenged in court as in the past they’ve also been permissive to allow the productions to continue. If it turns out that the courts side with the fan film producers’ fair use argument, it could open the floodgates to more being made.
And, y’know, there’s that whole thing where you might not want to sue your most loyal customers for liking your product too much. Not a great idea.