On the longest episode of Nerd & Tie so far, we mourn the passing of John Hurt, Warner Bros wants to make an American live action Attack on Titan, Star Wars Episode VIII finally has a title, the Axanar lawsuit has finally been settled, Jughead apparently isn’t asexual in Riverdale, Comic Excitement Convention flops, Phoenix Comicon has changed its staffing policies a second time, Angry Goat Productions is looking either incompetent or shady, and Evercon has filed for a restraining order against Scott Windorski.
Those of you waiting patiently for Star Trek Fan Film Axanar can finally rejoice! The lawsuit between the studios and its filmakers has finally reached a settlement, and we might finally get to see a version of the fan film! Sort of!
Don’t get too excited yet.
Axanar has been a sticking point for CBS and Paramount for some time. The studios filed a copyright lawsuit after its massive amount of fundraising set off red flag for the companies. And despite J.J. Abrams’s comments that the suit was going away last May, it’s soldiered on. To put the icing on the cake, during this, Paramount and CBS put out some ridiculously restrictive fan film guidelines which seemed designed to kill a historically relevant part of Trek fan culture.
This settlement is, if anything, a compromise with those guidelines.
In the settlement the existing Prelude to Axanar will be allowed to stay online, and the Axanar film will be allowed online posted as two, 15 minute shorts. This is far from the feature length film promised by filmmakers, but falls into the ridiculous length guidelines put out there by CBS and Paramount. Axanar gets to skirt certain parts of those guidelines still, with its heavy inclusion of actors who have appeared on various Star Trek properties.
On this episode of Nerd & Tie, CBS and Paramount have decided to settle the Axanar lawsuit , there’s a bit of Captain America controversy, Geoff Johns has been put in charge of the DCEU, Emerald City Comicon is getting sued, Anime Expo reverses Background check policy for vendors, Space City Comic Con has a bizarre guest/vip pass fiasco on a massive scale, and our roadshow continues to hit more cons!
And we read your letters too!
(Correction: In this episode we mistakenly refer to a set of proposed fan film guidelines as endorsed by CBS and Paramount — these guidelines are actually the ones Axanar’s producers are proposing to CBS and Paramount as a part of their settlement)
Fan films have always existed in legal limbo. While studios have usually claimed that these films violated their copyrights, for the most part they’ve been left alone. Some studios, like Lucasfilm, set out guidelines for what was acceptable use of their Star Wars intellectual property in fan productions, but other franchises like Star Trek‘s owners (initially Paramount and now CBS) have been vague. In recent years so called “fan films” have been getting more and more professional, and Trek fan film Axanar looked to be as professional as any other official production.
Which, y’know, made CBS and Paramount nervous.
Back in December, CBS and Paramount filed a lawsuit against Axanar‘s creators because of this, claiming copyright infringement. The case has led to a lot of debate about the nature of “fan films,” whether Axanar really even is one, and whether or not the Klingon Language can be protected. This case could have set a number of precedents.
But guess what, it won’t.
At a fan event on Friday, J.J. Abrams revealed that the lawsuit against Axanar‘s creators would be “going away.”
Apparently at the urging of Justin Lin (director of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond feature film), Paramount and CBS will be ending the lawsuit.
While Abrams says the word “fans” a lot (and I’m sure this will be a part of both CBS and Paramount’s official statements), I have to wonder if CBS or Paramount was concerned that any judgement might end up weakening the strength of their Star Trek copyright. If a decision regarding the copyrightability of the Klingon language hadn’t gone in their favor, they would no longer be able to charge licensing fees on anything in Klingon. Frankly, this feels like it was a shrewd business move more than any sort of nod to the fans.
But maybe that’s just the cynic in me.
The Axanar people did not actually know that CBS and Paramount weren’t going to move forward with the lawsuit until the words came out of Abrams’s mouth (as the executive producer of Axanar Alec Peters was in the audience). It should also be clear that the studios have not “dropped” the lawsuit, but are instead entering into settlement talks. The good news is that it looks like Star Trek will finally get a set of rules and guidelines for fan works, and this sort of thing won’t happen again.
On this episode of Nerd & Tie, we tackle Toho’s new Godzilla design, CBS is suing the creators of Star Trek fan film Axanar, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is crushing it at the box office, Hasbro can’t get things right with Rey, and No Boys Dorm just kind of kicks ass.
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.