Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Open Letter To Vic Mignogna

Dear Vic,

I want to say that I respect the hell out of the work you and your cast and crew do in putting out Star Trek Continues. First, there is no other fan production that I know of which produces high quality episodes in the volume that Continues does. You've managed to average 2 episodes a year, where even New Voyages/Phase II has only managed 1 per year at best.

Second, you have assembled a cast that is one of the best I've seen in a fan production. Having Chris Doohan play the role originated by his father is a master stroke. Todd Haberkorn is, hands down, the best Spock out there (short of Leonard Nimoy and Zach Quinto, of course). And, I've found that if I squint just enough, I can believe that you're actually William Shatner, chewing the scenery with wild abandon! With Chuck, Grant, Kim, Wyatt, Michelle and Stephen, you have all done a wonderful job of inhabiting your characters. The fact that you've maintained a consistent cast throughout all the episodes is also really nice, so far as continuity goes.

By far, my favorite episode has to be The Fairest Of Them All. I've said before that it stands out as one of the best individual fan film episodes ever made (right up there with Of Gods And Men, Mind Sifter, The Tressaurian Intersection, the director's cut of The Holiest Thing, and Prelude To Axanar, in my mind). Of all your episodes, I find it is the one with the most rewatchability factor.



So, here's why I changed my mind about contributing to your Indiegogo campaign.



Based on what I've said above, it has nothing to do with the production itself. Rather, it has to do with certain actions you've taken and things you have said as an individual.

When your campaign kicked off, I went to the fundraising page to make a pledge. Then I read the following line: "Our producers have never drawn a salary, and they never will." Now, in and of itself, that is laudable. However, I knew that sentence had a broader meaning.

You see, by now, pretty much anyone who is remotely interested in fan films has heard about CBS & Paramount's lawsuit against Axanar Productions. I also know that this suit has caused a divide within the fandom over who's the bad guy in the suit. Further, I've known for a long time that there is no love lost between you and Alec Peters. Personally, I couldn't care less who is to blame for what in that particular relationship; that's between the two of you. What I do care about is that animosity bleeding over into your respective productions. Now, if you read any of my recent blog posts, it's pretty clear that I'm for Axanar. Indeed, I am for all fan productions. But, since I knew all of the above, I knew you had taken a side on the issue of the Axanar lawsuit.

To me it was wholly unnecessary to do that in order to make your point. Your body of work, both in quality and volume, speaks quite well to the point that the money people donate to Continues is well spent on your end. You didn't have to point out, even if subtly, the purported misdeeds of another production.

Your recent interview on the Synthaholics has further reinforced to me that I was correct in my decision. Yes, your fundraising isn't going as well as you had hoped, and I would be a fool to believe that you're lying when you say you've heard from some fans who have held off from donating due to the lawsuit and the uncertainty it creates. But laying it all at the feet of Alec Peters ignores a number of other factors, many of which were detailed quite nicely by Jonathan Lane at FanFilmFactor.com.

To put it simply, you asked for an amount of money which was nearly double any of your previous campaign goals, and you did it on a fundraising platform which has less than half the contributor base of Kickstarter. As it stands, you've raised over $199,049, which is right in the wheelhouse of your previous fundraising totals. Unless you've quantified just how many fans told you they weren't going to donate because of the suit, and the dollar amounts they would have contributed, I highly doubt the gap between your goal and what you actually got would have been covered by them.

But you should also take into consideration that I'm probably not be the only one who feels the way I do about this. I can't quantify how many people feel the same way, or their dollar amounts either (though I'd be willing to wager that it would at least have gotten you more than a bit past the $200,000 mark), but money left on the table is money left on the table. Be aware that you left it there.

And on a more personal note, I found the way you behaved on that podcast to be distasteful. I compare it to how Tommy Kraft acted on the recent Trek Geeks podcast. Tommy is the only person who is actually collateral damage to the lawsuit, and who has had his production shut down. If he had teed off on Alec and Axanar Productions anything close as to the way you did, I wouldn't have blamed him. Instead, he was entirely calm about the whole thing, played it down the middle and, at worst, speculated on what might have drawn the lawsuit when asked to. He displayed all the grace and poise that you did not. And that is why the money that would have gone to your campaign has now gone to help fund Tommy's Project Discovery. (If you haven't done so already, I would hope that you contribute to his project. If anyone deserves all of fandom's backing now, it's Tommy.)

Finally, I have a piece of advice for you. If you are going to proclaim loudly to all and sundry that you are a fan production who "does everything right", you need to make sure you do everything right. And, as Mr. Shatner had to remind you recently, using his likeness without his permission in your fundraising efforts falls well outside of the "everything right" category. Now, perhaps it was just a mistake, but for someone who has boasted as you have, it's a foolish one, and one you made more than once.

For all it's worth, I do wish you well with Star Trek Continues. I just can't and won't contribute to your efforts to produce more episodes, unless you have a change of heart.

Sincerely,
Dave

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

All Things Axanar

Well, it's been a little while since I've written about my favorite fan-film lawsuit, so here's a collection of things that have gone on since!

Mark Largent, creator of the animated puppet parody Stalled Trek: Amutt Time has leveled his humor and wit at the ongoing lawsuit with his latest creation, Stalled Trek: Prelude To Ax'd-We-Are. Give it a look here:


I don't know about you, but this thing had me in stitches the first time I watched it. Jonathon Lane of FanFilmFactor.com (who collaborated with Mr. Largent and voiced some of the characters) has a story there about how this project came about.



Now, you just had to know that at some point a lawsuit about Star Trek was going to get uber-nerdy. On April 28th, Eriq Gardner wrote a story at The Hollywood Reporter about the Language Creation Society filing of an amicus curae ("Friend Of The Court") brief supporting Axanar against CBS and Paramount's claim that they own copyright on the Klingon language (a copy of the brief is available in the article). It is well worth a read, as it posits the notion that the language itself has grown beyond the bounds of Mark Okrand's original creation for the studio and "taken on a life of its own". The author of the brief also managed to write it in a lightly humorous manner, using Klingon phrases (kindy translated in the footnotes for those who can't read Klingon script) and making references that any Trekkie would immediately recognize. I don't know how much weight Judge Klausner will give the brief, but it does provide another light-hearted moment in the ongoing lawsuit.



Last month, I got a fair amount of heat for my blog post where I advocated formalizing rules for fan films, mainly being told that such an arrangement would never happen because it might inadvertently create rights for fan films which previously belonged to CBS. Therefore, when I read Peter Decherney's article at Forbes.com, I felt rather vindicated. After all, here's a man who writes about Hollywood and copyright law for a living expressing a sentiment very much like I did. It's simply going to take more creative and innovative thinking than a room full of lawyers at Loeb & Loeb can generate.

(Completely Random Thought: For some reason, every time I see the name Loeb & Loeb, I think it would be the perfect name for a law firm run by Ferengi....)



Finally, Tommy Kraft, subject of my last blog post has produced a teaser video for his original Sci-Fi project, Project Discovery:


Currently, Project Discovery has raised almost $16,000 on Kickstarter. That's a healthy amount, but it's still a good ways off from the $250,000 goal. If you haven't donated yet, please click the link above and give what you can! Tommy made one hell of a fan film, and deserves both his chance to break into Hollywood, as well as all the support we can give him.



That's all for now! Be on the lookout for my next post, where I have a few words for the producer of a certain fan production.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

CBS To Star Trek Horizon: Let That Be Your Last Fan Film



You know, I really wanted to make my next post about something other than the happenings surrounding the CBS/Paramount lawsuit against Axanar (I have been musing lately on the similarities between Trekkies and Van Halen fans, for instance). However, there has been some unfortunate collateral damage to this lawsuit that I feel I must speak up about.


Just this past Febuary, an intrepid young filmmaker named Tommy Kraft released his Star Trek fan film, Star Trek: Horizon, on YouTube (the trailer is above, and here is a link to the full movie). Set in the Enterprise era of Trek lore, it tells the story about the crew of the NX-04 Discovery and their, well, discovery of an ancient weapon that the Romulans hope to use to destroy Earth. Tommy spent 4 years of his life making this movie, and managed to raise almost $23,000 to complete it. This is certainly what I would call a labor of love, not to mention one of the better fan films I have had the pleasure of viewing, and I applaud him for his efforts (as well as his parents for supporting him in the pursuit of his dreams).

Horizon has been quite a success, if YouTube views are any indication. As it stands right now, the movie has been viewed over 975,000 times in the 2 months it has been out. While initially reluctant to, Tommy was eventually persuaded by one of the actors to follow up Horizon with a sequel. On April 17th, the following post appeared on the Horizon Facebook page:

"BREAKING NEWS: Star Trek - Federation Rising, a sequel to Horizon, will begin crowdfunding on Saturday, April 23rd at 12:00am EST. The countdown begins"

 
Unfortunately, a mere three days after the announcement, the following was posted to the page:


"BREAKING NEWS: “STAR TREK - HORIZON" SEQUEL, "FEDERATION RISING", SHUT DOWN.

Earlier today, executives from CBS reached out to me and advised me that their legal team strongly suggested that we do not move forward with plans to create a sequel to Horizon. While this is a sign of the current climate that we find ourselves in with Star Trek fan films, I want to personally thank CBS for reaching out to me, rather than including us in their ongoing lawsuit against Axanar.

It was conveyed that the reason CBS was reaching out to me was due to the legal troubles stemming from the Axanar case. Again, CBS did not have to reach out personally. The message I received felt more like they were giving me a heads up before we got too involved in another project, rather than a group of angry executives swinging a hammer.

On behalf of myself and Ryan Webber, my co-writer and co-producer on Federation Rising, we appreciate your initial support and are saddened that we cannot bring you what we believe was a fantastic feature film. However, rest assured that Ryan and I are committed to continuing our storytelling partnership with an original project. We also welcome other fan productions and fan film lovers to join us on this new venture."

Certainly, this has to be a body blow to Tommy and his writing partner Ryan Webber. However, in a classic case of making chicken salad out of chickens$%t, they have decided to move forward with this: 

 

From their Kickstarter page:

"Project Discovery is a feature length science fiction space epic that tells the story of a group of scientists and engineers uniting people all over the world in a common effort: taking humanity to space. The year is 2060, much of the world is caught up in unrest. Focused more on solving the problems we have on our home planet, people have given up on the notion of travel to the stars. Then, a multicultural group of scientists and engineers is able to captivate the world once again with a daunting plan: launching humanity's first faster-than-light spacecraft: The IV-202 Explorer."

This sounds like a neat idea! First off, it is a 21st century echo of what created the inspiration for the US space program (scientists and sci-fi writers used to have bull sessions post-WW2 about pushing for a "space race" with the USSR to keep the two superpowers from blowing each other to smithereens). Secondly, while I'm not saying that it has any actual connection to Star Trek, the timeframe it takes place in is around the same time of Zefram Cochrane's first test of his Warp Drive. Therefore, it seems to be like a First Contact-ish kind of story (without cyborgs from the future trying to ruin the party.....), and that is a movie I am seriously interested in watching. Being one who tries to put his money where his mouth is, I have donated to Tommy & Ryan's endeavors, and I hope all who read this do as well. Horizon showed what they are capable of as filmmakers and they deserve to have their efforts justly rewarded.



However, what they do not deserve is to be used as fodder for either side of the ongoing debate about the Axanar lawsuit. Tommy has steadfastly remained neutral on this matter, expressing only a wish that the matter be settled amicably. Tommy recently appeared on the TrekGeeks.com podcast to discuss in detail the call he got from CBS, and the current scene regarding CBS' relationship to fan projects. It is vitally important to actually listen to the podcast, and hear all of Tommy's words and, more importantly, the tone of his speech when he says what he says, as those are the things that get lost in translation when someone excerpts those words and drops out context, as the Axamonitor website has done.

Here's a good example (from Axamonitor's article):

Kraft, however, rejected that notion. “I've tried from the beginning to maintain a neutral standpoint on this,” he said, “There have been a lot of productions that have raised a lot of money … and a lot of feature-length stuff, but it was something about the Axanar project in general, I believe, that caused [CBS] to have a change of opinion. … It's too coincidental that everything was hunky-dory until this one production and then all of a sudden things change.”

Now, reading that, one could get the idea that Tommy had a change of opinion regarding the Axanar lawsuit. At the very least, that's how I read it.

Now, here's the full text of what he said:

"I've tried from the beginning to maintain a neutral standpoint on this, and what the reasons might be. And all I can say, that I know for sure, is there have been a lot of productions that have raised a lot of money, and there have been productions that have raised little to no money, and there's been a lot of feature length stuff, and it was something about the Axanar project in general, I believe, that caused them [CBS] to have a change of opinion. Now, whatever that may be, people can speculate on. And there are some facts to the situation that some people know and others don't, but there..it's too coincidental even if you don't have any facts that everything was hunky-dory until this one production and then all of a sudden things change."(emphasis added to show what was redacted)

That reads a little differently, doesn't it? Now, I can see taking out a few of the words here and there for brevity and conciseness, but Axamonitor's redaction pretty much removed all his moderation from that statement. 

Now, you may not think this is such a big deal. But today, someone posted a link to Axamonitor's article on a Star Trek page at Facebook, and it caused quite a fracas. While I'm certain the writer of Axamonitor's article thought he was just adding one more piece to his collection of "ammunition" to his case against Axanar, it had an unintended side effect. A number of people on the pro-Axanar side of things took the article at face value, and many were ready to drop their support of Tommy's project. I, however, took the extra step and listened to the podcast, and noted the discrepancy between what Axamonitor's article reported, what Tommy actually said, and the tone in which he said it. Finally, Tommy himself was brought in to the conversation and had this to say:


Tommy shouldn't have had to do this. No matter what your opinion on the Axanar lawsuit is, I think we can all agree that nixing Federation Rising is a terrible and unfortunate piece of collateral damage, that Project Discovery deserves nothing less than our full support, and that the Trek Geeks guys were correct in saying that Tommy has handled this whole situation with grace.

Note to commenters: As I have left my opinion on Axanar completely out of this particular post, I would appreciate that any comments made address the article topic and not the lawsuit.



Friday, April 8, 2016

CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar: The Fan-Film Web


Hello again, and welcome back to more of my thoughts on everybody's favorite fan film lawsuit!

Well, my last post garnered even more page views, and between my last two posts, they account for over have of the total page views I've had in the entire five years I've had this blog. Therefore, I think I'm gonna keep giving the people what they want.

First off, I want to give a shout-out to Reece Watkins for echoing my sentiments in his excellent blog post on Krypton Radio (and for having the presence of mind to use the more Trek-appropriate "Kobayashi Maru", as opposed to my rather pedestrian "Pyrrhic Victory").

Secondly, here are a couple of articles that I want to delve into a bit more. Tech Times interviewed Alec Peters and Robert Meyer Burnett of Axanar Productions, as well as Erin Ranahan of Winston & Strawn. Also, Axanar's PR Director, Mike Bawden, wrote an interesting post on Axanar's blog about the need for formal rules for fan productions.

I tend to agree with Mr. Bawden. While I don't subscribe to the populist notion that "Star Trek belongs to the fans" (at least in the legal sense), there is no denying that Star Trek has inspired abundant creativity in its fandom over the decades (if you're nice, I might recite a rather bawdy poem I wrote once called "The Final Frontier"). Modern technology has made expressing this creativity incredibly easy. Why, I could get some costumes, a green bedsheet, get some friends together, and shoot a fan film on my phone! The sheer proliferation of fan productions you can find on YouTube prove its ubiquity.

Ever since James Cawley made his first episode of New Voyages, Paramount (and now CBS) has basically looked the other way regarding fan films, as long as they gave away their product for free. On the one hand, that shows a measure of tolerance to behavior that fans would likely engage in regardless. On the other, this sort of "unspoken agreement" made, at least in part, the situation Axanar finds itself in today inevitable.

I've said before that Mr. Peters' stated goal for Axanar was to make a fan-film of a professional quality. That is quite a lofty goal, and the capital required to pull something like that off is beyond what any other fan production has raised to date. This lawsuit may very well have been brought about because Mr. Peters' ambitions for Axanar exceeded CBS/P's tolerance for the existence of fan productions. In other words, Icarus flew too close to the Sun.

But would this particular Icarus have flown so high if it knew the boundaries it had to stay in in the first place?

It's not like there's no precedence for rules and guidelines regarding fan projects. Lucasfilm holds an annual contest for Star Wars Fan Films, submissions to which are governed by rules having to do with, among other things, length and content. I'm not saying that these are particularly good rules, or that these rules should be the ones adopted by CBS/P in regards to Star Trek fan productions (five minutes is just long enough to get a Red Shirt killed....), but it does show that giving defined parameters for fans to use their intellectual property for creative expression can and does work.

I'm sure that there is some way to construct a set of formal rules, or perhaps some type of limited license, that any prospective fan production would have to formally agree to in order to proceed with the good graces of CBS/P. This may not be very remunerative for them in terms of actual money, but it would potentially buy them far more good publicity than bad.

It would also forestall the possible discovery that not all of what they claim to be covered by copyright in this lawsuit is actually so covered. As has been detailed elsewhere, there are indeed elements claimed in the amended complaint which are not covered by copyright (my personal favorite is when they claim the idea of "Science Fiction Action-Adventure" as a copyrightable element). Make no mistake, there is some peril for CBS/P here in that the courts may decide certain things that they thought they owned they don't, and that fan productions will have guidance on what they can and can't do that they no longer have complete control over.

And, ultimately, I believe that is what this lawsuit is all about. Not money, not fear of competition, but control. Here's the thing about control, though: Control is only good when it is consistent and predictable. Rules (when broadly known, easily understood, and applied constantly) bring about consistency and predictability. "We can't give you guidance because that may be construed as giving license", and "If you do something we don't like, you'll hear from our lawyers" does not.






Tuesday, March 29, 2016

“Direct Financial Benefit” and Vicarious Infringement. Or, I Don’t Think That Means What You Think It Means



Well, last week’s post brought this blog back from the dead, and did it with a bang! I had more page hits in the two weeks than I’ve had in the entirety of the blog’s history! Apparently, this got shared around Facebook rather extensively, and last week, David Post, who writes for The Volokh Conspiracy on the Washington Post website, linked to my post for his op-ed piece on the Axanar lawsuit (calling my post an excellent summary of the background)!

Since I’ve garnered so much attention, I figure it would be near criminal of me to let this blog lay fallow again. Fortunately, I have more to say, and specifically on the topic of the last post.

As I said in my last post, Mr. Peters has a number of detractors. They are the ones who go on about how Mr. Peters used the money donated for Axanar to build a “for-profit” studio, or Mr. Peters’ salary, or how he “sold coffee” to fund the production, and how all this was his way of “making money” off the IP of Star Trek. Moreover, they say this is why CBS and Paramount are suing Axanar.

For his part, Mr. Peters has said repeatedly that this lawsuit is not about money, but about allegations of copyright infringement. Presumably, he’s in a better position to know what CBS/P’s concerns than the general public is. However, there is a line in the complaint which alleges the defendants receive a “direct financial benefit”. The detractors have used that line to bolster their narrative, and call Mr. Peters a liar.

It does seem to pose an apparent paradox. How can a lawsuit not be about money when it says “direct financial benefit” right in the complaint? However, to paraphrase a line from The Princess Bride, that line doesn’t mean what they think it means.

The suit claims all the different type of copyright infringement that can be claimed, of which there are three. The first is direct infringement, which is rather self-explanatory. The other two are what are known as “secondary infringement”. It is somewhat analogous to aiding and abetting infringement. These are called contributory infringement, and vicarious infringement.

In order to claim vicarious infringement, two things must be true:
1) The person this is claimed against must have the right or ability to influence or control the actions of the infringing party.
2) The person this is claimed against must receive a direct financial benefit from the actions of the infringing party.
One example of this would be if a theater hires a band to play music, and that band plays copyrighted music they don’t have license to play. Another would be a flea market or swap meet renting space to a person who sells pirated DVDs. In either case, the venue owners would be guilty because they have control over the actions of the infringing parties, and they benefit financially from the infringing actions. For a more concrete example, this is one of the two ways Napster was found guilty of copyright infringement (contributory infringement being the other).

Now, of the three types of infringement that can be brought, only vicarious infringement carries with it the necessity of proving a financial component to it. And sure enough, if you look at the complaint, the only place that phrase occurs in the complaint is in the section which alleges vicarious infringement. Therefore, mentioning “direct financial benefit” is basically boilerplate language for making that allegation. So while the language is there (mainly because it has to be), the intent which it is a part of is to allege copyright violation. In which case, Mr. Peters is not lying when he says this suit is about copyright. Only those who practice the dark art of Pedantry could argue otherwise.

Moreover, (and this is where me being not-a-lawyer comes in) I’m at a loss to figure how that type of infringement comes into play in this particular situation. Personally, I’m inclined to go with my previous speculation that this complaint was written mainly to intimidate Axanar Productions into bending to their will.

But, most importantly, I don’t see how the paying of salaries, building out a soundstage, the amount of money donated to the production, or any of the other things the detractors bring up to say that it’s about money and Mr. Peters is a liar fits into the specific meaning of the phrase “direct financial benefit” as I’ve just outlined above. It’s really not a brush one can paint the production with.

In other words, I’m pretty sure that phrase doesn’t mean what the detractors think it means.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Paramount/CBS vs. Axanar: Where No Fan Film Has Gone Before

I should change the title of this blog to The Blog Of Nine Lives for the amount of times I have let it lay fallow....

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a Trekkie. And if you don't know me, now you know, I'm a Trekkie. I was reared on Original Series reruns. I saw pretty much every Trek movie the weekend it came out. TNG, DS9, Voyager and even Enterprise were appointment televison (or, at least, I'd watch the tape as soon as I got home....).

There was a pretty bleak time there for lovers of Trek, from 2005, when Enterprise was cancelled, until May 2009, when the first rebooted Trek movie came out. (There are those who would say the bleak times haven't ended yet, but that's a blog for another day.....). In the interim, there has flourished what I like to call the Golden Age Of Fan Films.

Now, fan films, particularly for Star Trek, have been around almost as long as Trek itself is. But in the last dozen years there has been a veritable explosion in the creation of Star Trek fan productions. With CGI software becoming more accessible, and websites like youtube making it possible to distribute them to a wide audience, the ability to make and distribute fan films of surprisingly decent-to-good quality has grown by leaps and bounds. There are fan productions that seek to fill in the rest of the USS Enterprise's original "five year mission", such as James Cawley's Star Trek: New Voyages (the Godfather of the modern Terek Fan Production!), Vic Mignona's Star Trek Continues (their Mirror, Mirror sequel "Fairest Of Them All" is, in my opinion, the best original series fan episode made). There are others that take place in the same timeline, but on different ships, such as Starship Exeter and Starship Farragut. There are plenty more that explore the era of Then Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager. And recently, Star Trek: Horizon, which takes place during the Star Trek: Enterprise era, made its debut. I could go on and on about all the different productions out there, but that's not what I really want to talk about.

Sometime in 2012, a man named Alec Peters announced he intended to make a fan production called Axanar. Axanar is to be the story of Captain Garth of Izar (from the original series episode Whom Gods Destroy) and his actions during the Battle Of Axanar during the Four Years War with the Klingons. In announcing his project, he set the bar for himself rather high. His goal was to produce a film that had the look, feel, and quality of a Star Trek movie you or I would plunk $15 to go see at a movie theater, but do it for a small fraction of the cost of a true Hollywood production. This meant that his cast would be filled out with actual actors, and directed and produced by people who do this kind of work for a living.

The first step in this journey was to make a 20 minute short called Prelude To Axanar. Filmed as a mock-documentary with the flavor of something you might see on the History Channel (other than Ancient Aliens), this would act as a proof-of-concept that could show that Mr. Peters could pull off what he intended to do. Using the recent advent of "crowdfunding" via Kickstarter, he managed to raise $100,000 to make Prelude. Here is the result:

Prelude To Axanar

With the results in hand, he proceeded to fundraise via a Kickstarter (and later, another at Indiegogo) campaign, and managed to date to raise a staggering $1.2 million dollars! That may seem like an insane amount of money, but given the lofty goals set, that means that he is trying to make this movie for about 1% of what it cost to produce 2009's Star Trek.

Now in the process of procuring and outfitting a soundstage in which to film, and finalizing the script for shooting, Axanar Productions hit a fairly nasty speed bump. On December 30 2015, CBS (who owns the rights to Star Trek televison) and Paramount Pictures (who owns the rights to Star Trek movies) slapped Axanar Productions and Mr. Peters with a copyright infringement lawsuit.

Now, my intention is not to discuss the merits of the case. On the face of things it would appear that CBS & Paramount do own the rights to Star Trek, and, perforce, all Star Trek fan films infringe on said rights. Also, the extent of my legal expertise amounts to hours of watching Judge Wapner, Divorce Court, The Practice, some of Boston Legal, a season and a half of Better Call Saul, and whatever I can look up on Google and Wikipedia. That and about $3 will get me a latte at Starbucks. Rather, I'd like to discuss the public relations aspect of their actions.

Now, while it is true that any Star Trek fan production may potentially infringe on their intellectual property, the fact of the matter is that CBS & Paramount have looked the other way when it has come to fan productions for well over a decade. Generally, their attitude has been, "As long as you give it away for free, we'll pretend to not notice." Besides begging the question of why Axanar and not all the other productions, right off the bat this has the appearance of a David vs. Goliath situation. And almost no one roots for Goliath (well, except maybe the Philistines....).

Now, to be certain, there is something that CBS and Paramount expect to gain from taking this sort of action. So much so that they are willing to potentially alienate a portion of the Star Trek fanbase in the process. Now, if one looks around the wide, wonderful world on the Internet (Giving Stupid People A Voice Since 1993!), one can certainly find a ton of speculation on the subject. There are those who think that Axanar is somehow a threat to the upcoming Star Trek Beyond. Personally, I highly doubt that. There are still others who are actually rooting for Goliath (I guess Philistines still exist!) because, well, they think David's kind of a dick and he's running a scam to line his pockets. I doubt that even more. If salaries, "for profit studios", and coffee were really what CBS & Paramount were honked off about, they'd have put that in their complaint.

What I will speculate on is what kind of response CBS/Paramount (herein, they will be known as CBS/P, as I'm tired of typing both names out!) expected, and what actually happened.

I suspect that CBS/P expected to scare Mr. Peters and Axanar Productions with the suit into rolling over, playing dead, and begging them not to continue the suit if they promised to go away. If you read the original complaint, it smacks of someone trying to bludgeon their target into submission. Plus, the simple fact that a big studio with (presumably) millions to burn on lawyers is no match for a small production company with limited resources. They probably thought that the best they might be able to muster is a lawyer the caliber of Saul Goodman.

Well, that's not what happened. Mr. Peters managed to engage the services of Winston & Strawn on a pro bono basis. W&S has extensive experience with intellectual property law, and apparently like taking the side of David. Look around for anything on the GamesWorkshop vs. Chapterhouse lawsuit, and you'll see what I mean.

At any rate, W&S took a look at the complaint, saw how vague the infringement claims were ("thousands" of copyrights, "innumerable" violations......), and proceeded to file a motion to dismiss that said, "Hey, what exactly are we violating?", "Which one of you owns what?" and, "Um, we haven't made the movie yet. Isn't this a little premature?"

The Lawyers for CBS/P responded by filing an amended complaint, in which they list in excruciating detail all the ways they claim Axanar infringes on their copyrights. Here's a link to the amended complaint: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2757228-Axanar-Klingon.html

It's quite a lengthy list! It is a fine example of lawyers throwing in everything they can think of (I swear I saw "kitchen sink" listed somewhere.....). There's a couple problems with it, though.

1) Many of the things they try to claim are not protected like copyright. Names, short phrases and such are not copyrightable. To get a more detailed breakdown of this issue, please check out The Back 40K Blog, as they have provided a much better breakdown of the problems with some of CBS/P's claims then I ever could.

2) By throwing in so much stuff, the lawyers for CBS/P have opened up their clients to ridicule in the public media. Here's a couple of examples:
 Helpful CBS Lawyers Explain the Many, Many Ways a Star Trek Fan Film Is Ripping Them Off
Paramount Claims Crowdfunded 'Star Trek' Film Infringes Copyright to Klingon Language

But the kicker is Justin Lin, the director of the upcoming Star Trek Beyond, decided to put his two bits into the conversation!

https://twitter.com/trailingjohnson/status/709285689095917568

I don't know about you, but having the director of your upcoming blockbuster Star Trek movie publicly calling your efforts to sue a fan film "ridiculous" seems to me to be not good for CBS/P. Naturally, this got even more press on the situation. More importantly, it got more people putting eyes on the Axanar Productions, their website, and their Prelude To Axanar film (the latest round of press has bumped its YouTube views over two million). The net result is there are now more eyes of the "Joe Public" variety on the situation than CBS/P expected. I'm willing to bet those eyes are more likely to root for David than they are Goliath. I'm also willing those are eyes they are counting on to watch Beyond this summer, and to pony up 5 bucks a month to watch the upcoming series on CBS All Access starting next year.

So, my question is this: at what point will the something that CBS/P want to get out of this lawsuit not be worth the public ridicule and alienation that is occurring? At what point will they realize that the victory they seek to claim may end up being Pyrrhic?










Friday, May 23, 2014

Bar Rescue: Best Employees

Like Lazarus, my blog has risen from the dead......again!

I have become a huge fan of Bar Rescue. For those not familiar with the premise, Jon Taffer, an expert consultant to the hospitality industry, comes into a bar that is in danger of failing, identifies the problems, and remodels the bar and retrains the employees, ostensibly leaving the bar in better condition than when he came in.

This show has become so popular, there is a website devoted to tracking the success of the bars called Bar Rescue Updates. It doesn't always paint a pretty picture of every bar shown in the episodes, but it's a good place to go and get additional information and discuss the show.

I like this show so much, I have decide to do some Best Of and Worst Of lists. Today's list comprises the best employees shown in each of the episodes. By "best" I mean the ones who are shown as competent, caring, and loyal.

4) Zusie-The Shot Exchange. Zusie is perhaps the most competent bartender I've seen shown in any episode. Most episodes, you see the bartenders getting overwhelmed during the "stress tests", not able to make drinks correctly, not able to make multiple drinks at one time, etc. Not Zusie, she was able to do her job correctly and quickly during the stress test while the rest of the staff more or less went to pot or tried to burn the place down. During the episode, it's let known that she has been working at The Tailgate for 14 years. That's dedication! Plus, she's cute as hell! On the downside, she doesn't talk a whole lot during the episode, so I couldn't get a gauge on her personality.

3) Chloe-Headhunters. Headhunters was the most disgusting bar ever shown on the show. The rundown exterior, with the letters peeling off the marquee just screamed "DON'T COME IN HERE!" This was the episode where there's a cockroach in Mrs. Taffer's drink, and another in the bottle it was poured from.

The owner Steve is a sociopath (we'll get into that more in another post). He runs a disgusting bar, and worse he doesn't pay his employees! All the people working there make tips only. Chloe first starts to shine during the Taffer-mandated bar clean-up. When Steve starts to rag on the employees for not keeping the bar clean, she lights into him about his business practices and how since none of them get paid, none of them are willing to spend hours doing something for free. Most times, an argument like this should lead to someone getting fired. But she's absolutely right.

Chloe is barely functional as a bartender, but that has more to do with lack of training than deficiency in her character. Despite working for a despotic lunatic, she (and the staff) cares deeply for this place. When Taffer has a sitdown with Steve and the employees, he tells them that the only way he will perform a rescue on the bar is if the staff is willing to make a go of it. If they don't he says he will gladly help them all find jobs at another establishment. From this point in the episode on, it's clear that Chloe is the heart and the leader of this bar. With some training, I could see her becoming a really good bar manager for a much better place.

2) Bryan "Syck"-OFace Bar. OFace, infamous for #TafferWalks. I really felt for Syck. The burly security guard was the only person that seemed to be in tune with Taffer and care about him being there to help. This clip says it all.

Sure enough, he doesn't work there anymore, and I'm sure he's better for it.

1) One-Eyed Mike-Piratz Tavern. To be honest, I've thought about putting Bryan on top, but I've decided just based upon his edit in the show to go with Mike from Piratz. Here's a guy who, due to an injury taking one of his eyes, quite literally has limited him in his employment chances. Being a Pirate is literally one of the best options this guy has.

This is the biggest, most talked about episode of Bar Rescue (at least, until OFace came along). A bunch of people who basically ran a restaurant in order to live out a pirate fantasy. Now, don't get me wrong, I get the allure of playing pirate. I used to participate in ren faires and belonged to the St. Charles guild, whose motto was "Nobles by Day, Pirates by Night!" Name faire name was Commordore Luc Bonchere. However, playing pirates at the expense of an operating business is an expensive avenue to take!

Now, to be fair, Taffer took a tack that was 180 degrees in the direction of the pirate bar. I get why he did that; he wanted to get the corporate lunch crowd. It's a smart idea. But by flying in the face of the fantasy these people we trying to live was inevitably going to run into a wall of resistance. And boy! did he get it!

I put Mike at the top because of all the people at Piratz, he was the only one who appeared to actually give the new direction a chance (at least, in the episode). The man who stated flatly he wouldn't wear a shirt and tie, donned just that and went to the local businesses to pass out fliers for the remodeled restaurant. Plus, he had a charm about him that made him so likeable. I didn't get that from anyone else in the episode.

Well, that's it for this list. I know there may be others out there I've missed. Please feel free to make suggestions as to who else should be on here.