The contentious situation between Hollywood studios CBS and Paramount – owners of the IP (intellectual property) of ‘Star Trek’ – and the high-profile fan-film creators responsible for the ‘Axanar’ projects got real confusing over the weekend. As we reported previously, CBS/Paramount had entered into legal action against the ‘Axanar’ crew, stating that the fan film was not only using the Star Trek IP illegally but was now wandering outside the realm of true fan-film-ing by raising money and offering merchandise, much like a corporation would. New information given directly to fans at an event this weekend may have clouded the waters even further.
Speaking to a group of fans and media in attendance of the ‘Star Trek Beyond’ fan event on Friday (5/20/16), JJ Abrams dropped a bit of a bombshell on the group. He was in a panel discussion with ‘Star Trek Beyond’ director Justin Lin, being moderated by ‘MythBusters’ host Adam Savage. After being asked a question about the ‘Axanar’ situation, Abrams said:
“A few months back there was a fan movie — ‘Axanar’ — that was being made, and there was a lawsuit that happened between the studio (Paramount and CBS) and these fans, and Justin [Lin]… was sort of outraged as a longtime fan. We started talking about it and we realized that this was not an appropriate way to deal with the fans. The fans should be celebrating this thing, like you’re saying right now. We all — fans of Star Trek — are part of this world. So we went to the studio and pushed them to stop this lawsuit and now, within the next few weeks, it will be announced that this is going away.”
There has been some back-and-forth online about whether this question was a planned part of the panel or not; what Abrams says seems to have taken Savage a bit by surprise, according to reports of folks who were present in the audience. Other alleged attendees, however, say that the transcript for the question was on a teleprompter before it was actually asked.
Regardless of the question’s origin, the fact that two filmmakers can go to “the studio” (no specific word on whether this references Paramount, CBS, or both) and get a lawsuit to “go away” isn’t quite as simple as all that. Janet Gershen-Siegel, a retired lawyer, weighed in on the situation, reminding everyone that Lin’s previously made statement on Twitter that “Trek belongs to all of us” is, quite simply, not true:
Fans help to support an IP, yes. Their funds keep it going. No argument here. But purchasing tickets, tunics, models, books, cable subscriptions, all-access passes, convention tickets, etc., does not create an ownership interest in the franchise. Star Trek is an owned property, just like your car, your home, your financial instruments (stocks, bonds, etc.). If I admire your automobile, take pictures of it, and maybe even take it out for a spin (with or without your permission, I might add), I do not miraculously suddenly own it.
Gershen-Siegel goes on to note that lawsuits are rarely simply “dropped;” the far more likely scenario is that the lawsuit will be settled by the two parties before it goes to trial, which may have been what Abrams was referencing when he said that the lawsuit will be “going away.”
For CBS and Paramount, the issue seems to be far from over. Per reports from Tommy Kraft, creator of the ‘Star Trek: Horizon’ fan film, made on the project’s Facebook page, CBS has contacted him within the last 30 days with a cease and desist on a sequel project that he was preparing to launch. According to reports following the ‘Star Trek Beyond’ fan event and what Abrams said there, Paramount released a statement that says they are now “working on a set of fan film guidelines,” most likely in an effort to regulate what fans can and cannot make instead of having to initiate legal action against every amateur(ish) filmmaker out there.
We will keep you updated on this ever-changing situation as things develop.
Tony Schaab created the fan film ‘Star Trek: The Humpbacks Strike Back’ in his head, but probably won’t ever shoot any footage for fear of being sued. Probably. A lover of most things sci-fi and horror, Tony is an author by day and a DJ by night. Come hang out with Tony on Facebook and Twitter to hear him spew semi-funny nonsense and get your opportunity to finally put him in his place.