Saturday, October 22, 2016

CBS/Paramount vs. Axanar: A Fistful Of Documents

It's been quite a few months since I've written about the Axanar case. Partly because I've put more attention on SMALL ACCESS, but mostly because there hasn't been a whole lot to write about. What there has been to write about, my friend Jonathan Lane over at Fan Film Factor has covered in good detail, and does the more legal ins-and-outs of this case better than I can.

However, today a ruling came down on a Motion To Compel Discovery filed by Winston & Strawn last month, and I felt the need to break out what Judge Eick ended up compelling, and what he denied.

The judge directed the plaintiffs to:
"1) Serve supplemental responses without objection, and produce all documents responsive to, the following requests (except documents withheld under claim of attorney-client privilege): 14, 35, 36, 37 (limited to the works actually infringed and also limited to documents[which may be summary documents] sufficient to show revenues and profitability), 17 (limited to 2009 to present), 18 (limited to 2009 to the present), 2, 25, and 29.; 2) serve supplemental answers without objection to Interrogatories Nos 8 and 9; 3)produce for deposition a witness or witnesses prepared to testify as to Deposition Testimony Subject No. 28; 4) serve a privilege log identifying with particularity all documents withheld under claim of attorney-client privilege; and 5) to the extent not otherwise ordered herein, fulfill all discovery-related promises previously made by Plaintiffs to Defendants."

The judge then denied the balance of requests made.

So, what does this all mean? In the original Motion to Compel, the defendants cited 20 different items in which they felt the plaintiffs hadn't fulfilled their obligation as regards to discovery. Two of those items (Requests 6 & 7), which had to do with the plaintiffs' chain of custody regarding Star Trek's copyrights and any claims made against those rights, the plaintiffs turned over to the defendants some days after the motion was filed. That left 18 items on the motion.

Of those 18 items, 11 of them were granted (though some were limited in scope by the judge), and 7 were denied. First, I'll go over what the ones granted were.

Request #14 is "All Documents that refer or relate to the commercial impact, if any, that the promotion, production, or release of fan films, including but not limited to fan films inspired by Star Trek, has had or might have on the value of the works from which the fan films are inspired, including but not limited to the Star Trek Copyrighted Works."

Request #35 is "All Documents and Communications demonstrating how the market for Your business has been impacted by the Axanar Works."

Request #36 is "All Documents and Communications discussing the impact, or lack thereof, of the Axanar Works on Your business."

Request #37 is "Documents and Commuications sufficient to show your profitability, revenue, ticket sales, and product sales related to Your Works from 2009 to present."

Request #17 is "All Documents that refer or relate to fan films inspired by Star Trek."

Request #18 has to do with all documents relating to any decision whether to pursue legal action against any other fan films (paraphrasing this one because the direct quote is looong!)

Request #21 is "All Documents and Communications regarding Your decision whther to send a DCMA takedown notice to YouTube or any other person or entity with regard to Prelude To Axanar or the "Vulcan Scene".

Request #25 is "All Documents that refer, relate to, or constitute any actual or potential guidelines for fan films that You have Created, implemented, or considered creating or implementing, including but not limited to any research, analysis, or Communications regarding this subject."

Request #29 is "All Documents and Communications relating to the statements made by JJ Abrams on or about May 19, 2016 (it goes on to describe the different parts of JJ's statement)"

Interrogatory #8 is "Identify and describe the harm or injury You claim to have suffered as a result of Defendants' actions as alleged in the FAC (First Amended Complaint)."

Interrogatory #9 is  "Indentify and describe the damages you seek for each cause of action asserted in the FAC, including by identifying and describing the method(s) used to compute these damages."

Testimony Subject #28 is "All communications between you and JJ Abrams and/or Justin Lin regarding fan films, this lawsuit, and/or Axanar."

Now, I'm not a lawyer, but a lot of what has been compelled looks to A) speak to the factor of Fair Use which is the effect of the work on the potential market of the copyrighted work, B) show that Axanar's works did little actual damage to the plaintiffs, and C) show that Axanar's works were not willful infringement. I'm not entirely sure how the information on how JJ's announcement will be used in the case, but I'm dying to find out the background on that. Also, I'm glad to see that Judge Eick seemingly didn't buy the plaintiffs' line that the term "fan film" is "too broad", as he compelled everything that had to do with them.

Does this win the case for Axanar? Not all by itself, no. After all, compelling discovery of these documents does not mean there are actually documents that exist, or what documents that do exist contain any of the substance the defendants are looking for, or CBS and Paramount managed to involve a lawyer every time they talked about this stuff. However, it does give them the opportunity to find out.

The items Judge Eick denied are:

Request #23 is "All Documents that refer, relate to, or constitue Your expenditures relating to the promotion or production of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works, including but not limited to the salaries paid to the directors, producers, actors, and all other persons involved in the promotion or production of such works."

Subject Matter #14 is "Revenues from the allegedly infringed works, including without limitation how such revenues are tracked and accounted for."

Relatively speaking, this is not that big of a loss. After all, this data will be available in the documents asked for in Request #37. Also, I highly doubt the Judge was going to require them to dig up how much Shatner's toupee from Season 3 cost.....

Request #19 has to do with policies practices and procedures of the plaintiff on sending DCMA takedown notices of works they believe infringe on their copyrights.

Request #20 has to do with the same things as #19 in regards to works that may be fair use.

Request #24 is "All Documents that refer or relate to Star Wars fan films, including but not limited to (a) all Documents that refer, relate to, or constitute Lucasfilm's guidelines and/or attitudes regarding fan films, and (b) all Documents relating to any meetings or other Correspondence between You and any other person or entity, including at Lucasfilm, regarding this subject."

Subject Matter #21 has to do with policies, procedures and practices plaintiffs use to protect from copyright infringement

Subject Matter #22 has to do with the same regarding DCMA takedown notices, as well as how they consider the "fair use" defense.

I don't think it hurts having these denied. It almost seems to me that, on the items that had to do with how the plaintiffs handle things, Judge Eick more or less allowed everything that was more specific (having to do with fan films, or Axanar expressly), and denied the ones that were more general. Request #18 covers most of these items in regards to fan films specifically. Asking for stuff on Star Wars may have just been pushing it a little too far....

On the balance, I'd say the defendants came out ahead in this skirmish. It may not win the war, but it sure didn't lose it, either!

Sunday, June 26, 2016


So, a few days ago CBS and Paramount Pictures released their new fan film guidelines, and, to put it simply, they suck. Here we are more than a month from JJ's announcement that the lawsuit against Axanar would be "going away" and CBS and Paramount confirming that they were in settlement talks and would be issuing guidelines for fan films. The lawsuit has yet to be settled, but here we have a set of guidelines that not only make filming Axanar impossible, but pretty much shuts down nearly every fan production out there short of Project Potemkin (and even then, Potemkin couldn't continue in a series format).

Basically, CBS and Paramount have made guidelines that would have made sense maybe 15 years ago. However, New Voyages, digital cameras, You Tube, and the general democratization of film-making have changed the scope and dimension of what a fan film could be, and it's been that way for about 12 years now. These rules appear to be an attempt to put the genie back in the bottle. Perhaps, as my friend Jonathan Lane of the Fan Film Factor blog (more on him later) has said, it was simply a matter of the wrong people being in the room when it came time to concoct these guidelines. That makes some sense to me. These guidelines needed to have a balance of creativity and opportunity mixed in with the concern for protecting intellectual property.

Regardless, however we got here, the fact is, we are here and most people are spitting mad about these guidelines. A few are spitting mad at Alec Peters and Axanar Productions for apparently forcing CBS and Paramount's hand (remarkably short-sighted in my opinion, but that's a story for another day), but the vast majority have directed their anger towards CBS and Paramount. The question is, what can be done about this?

Now, many of the people angry at the studios are calling for a boycott. While I certainly understand and sympathize with the sentiment, here's why I doubt it would work. When the lawsuit was announced against Axanar, a certain party (whose name I cannot recall) started a petition to boycott against CBS and Paramount unless they dropped the lawsuit against Axanar. This person was able to get about 10,000 signatures in fairly short order. From there it became a grind to get many more, and the last time I saw an update (about a month or so ago) the petition was stuck at about 12,000. Now, assuming every single person who signed that petition actually followed through on it, that would account for maybe $120,000-150,000 in box office revenue. That's less than 1% of the take of Into Darkness. That's not going to make Paramount blink. It might be enough to get CBS to pay a little attention, as it would amount to $72,000/month in subscription money for All Access.

However, the studios know the same thing I know, and that's fans of Star Trek love Star Trek! That's why I won't participate in a boycott; I love the franchise, I have enjoyed the new movies, and I really want to see what Fuller, Meyer, and company have planned for us in January. Sooner or later, that 12,000 is going to experience attrition, and all that will be left were people who were probably not going to go see Beyond, or watch the new series to begin with.

So, what's a person to do when they want CBS and Paramount to see the light on their myopic and draconian fan films rules?

Leave it to my friend Jonathan to come up with a possibly brilliant way to go about it: Project SMALL ACCESS!

For those who don't want to read his blog (but why wouldn't you?), the idea is simple: instead of threatening to boycott the new CBS series, start a campaign to organize viewing parties for the new show. Instead of six individuals signing up for All Access to watch the show, those same six people arrange to get together at one person's house (the "designated subscriber") to watch, and the others chip in to help the designated subscriber with the bill (directly, or indirectly). Here's why I think this idea makes sense:

1) As I just pointed out, boycotts don't really work.

2) This idea falls more in line with the letter writing campaign spearheaded by Bjo Trimble back in 1968. That campaign targeted the sponsors NBC relied upon for their advertising revenue.

3) Unlike a boycott, this idea does not require a large sacrifice of anyone in the Trek fandom.

4) Most importantly, IT'S FUN!!!!! Why watch a show by yourself, when you can get a bunch of friends together (or make a bunch of new friends) and make a party out of it?

I invite everyone reading this to join in, as we plan to have a lot of fun, and if enough people join in, the powers that be just might take notice long enough to listen to more reasonable revisions and adjustments to their guidelines. We are in the process of discussing what we think those revisions and adjustments should be, and would love to have your input!

Monday, June 6, 2016

"20 Minutes Of Action"

The photo that should have run with all the stories

Today, I read the letter that the father of Brock Turner, the former Stanford swimmer convicted of sexual assault, wrote to the judge presiding over the case.

Two things about the letter really stuck out in my mind:

1) Calling sexual assault and attempted rape "20 minutes of action" has to be the most crass and tone-deaf description of what his son did to that woman! I sincerely hope that was merely a poor choice of wording on Mr. Turner's part.

2) But notwithstanding that, reading the letter reminded me of something I did when I was a teenager.

One weekend, when I was 15, I was up visiting my mother and sister. While I was there, I got caught stealing a pack of cigarettes from a supermarket. No charges were filed against me, but my mom decided that for the rest of my visit I was going to pull weeds in a section of her back yard where she planned to plant a garden. I pleaded with my mom for some lenience. After all, I was filled with guilt and remorse for what I had done, and I told her that I had learned my lesson. "Son," she told me, " I understand that you feel remorse for what you did. You should feel that way. However, you still need to pay the price for what you have done." And with that, I spent the rest of my weekend digging dirt and pulling weeds.

I get that Mr. Turner is looking at his son, and seeing how what he has done has had a devastating effect on him, and doesn't want to see his flesh and blood in such a manner. But making excuses for his son and telling the judge how a six month sentence is too harsh is not what he should be doing. The simple fact of the matter is that his son committed an act which is punishable by law. If anything, he should be thanking the judge and his lucky stars that his son has been let off so light! But most importantly, he should realize that no matter how badly his son feels about what he did, he needs to pay the price for what he has done. And he needs to tell his son that.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Telling Tales Out Of School

Well it seems that my last post caused quite a stir! I've heard a lot about what is being said about the public release of the meetings and the working draft of the proposed guidelines, and I feel I should say something about all this.

First off, since I posted, there have been public statements from Starbase Studios, Starship Valiant, and Star Trek: Ambush.

To Starbase Studios: I reviewed my article, and I did find a discrepancy. My first line about the Facebook chat implied that all eight of the producers contacted and invited to the chat were actively participating in the discussion. I clarified this with Mr. Peters, and my understanding is that he did invite all eight into the chat, released the first draft there, and half of the people invited chose to participate further. I have corrected the original post to reflect that, as well as corrected the information on the number of productions you produce. As much as the original post made it seem like Mr. Johnson participated beyond receiving the guidelines, that was an error in my writing which I should have caught in editing, and I do apologize to you for that.

That being said, I do not believe that the intent of Mr. Peters in relaying the information in my post was anything other than the reason I give below.

To Mr. King of Starship Valiant, I understand any consternation you have at what was supposed to be a private conversation made public. I would suggest speaking to Mr., Pedraza and asking him who gave him the conversation, as I did not receive any information as to what was said, let alone publish it. You deserve an apology, but it should come from someone who, at the moment, remains anonymous. Also, my understanding from Mr. Peters is that the rules as had been given to me had not been finalized, but were still under discussion, and my article reflects that.

While I have not seen it, I understand there is a tweet from someone in the production of Star Trek Continues stating that they were no part of the discussion. I also have a comment awaiting moderation on the original post which purports to be from Todd Haberkorn (as the commenter's handle is "unknown", but signed by Todd, I cannot confirm this) which states that he did take a phone call from Mr. Peters, but never received the guidelines. From the comment, he seemed to be expecting them in an email from Mr. Peters, which could explain why he didn't receive them. For the same reasons I gave to Starbase Studios above, I do apologize to the production of Star Trek Continues if I gave the impression you were an active participant. 
I have not heard of any word from any other production named my post. If I do, I will update this article with the information.  

In the interests of full disclosure, the one thing I did not say was that Mr. Peters did tell me that a member of the discussions had disclosed the guidelines, and it had made its way to Carlos Pedraza, who runs the website. He wanted to convey an accurate account in the event Axamonitor did go public with news of the discussions. I personally had no problem with doing this. The information he gave me, by itself, seemed fairly innocuous. If the guidelines were going to come as a result of the settlement negotiations, it seemed to be a no-brainer to reach out to other fan productions to get their thoughts on this (Indeed, I had actually been idly discussing with another friend on Facebook an idea of how to go about soliciting comments from other productions). Who knows if CBS and Paramount would have considered them, but I thought it was good that Mr. Peters was trying to bring them to their attention.

I had no idea that Mr. Pedraza not only had the guidelines, but details of the conversation as well.

I read the article he had posted. And, sure enough, he had portrayed it as Alec trying to rally support amongst the other productions, and apparently failing. He showed some of the more sensational parts of the conversation where some of the other producers were disagreeing with one of the proposals as originally written. He goes on to speculate as to what Alec's motivations were in initiating this discussion (to be sure, he speculates something more egregious than simply soliciting input).  What he didn't do was name any of the participants or disclose his source.

So, to recap, I wrote an article that stated that Mr. Peters reached out to some producers to get some thoughts on the guidelines which names the producers he contacted. Again, fairly innocuous. Mr. Pedraza wrote his using an unnamed source and detailing conversations that were private. Fairly incendiary, and apparently designed to embarrass Mr. Peters. Since Mr. Pedraza allowed his source to remain anonymous, and didn't name any of the producers in the parts of the conversation he chose to disclose, by itself the only person who could be burned by this is Mr. Peters. However, combine the two together (as the Axamonitor article now does) and we get something similar to when you combine glycerin with nitric acid.

Now, I have seen quite a bit of criticism of Mr. Peters and myself being bandied about in all the usual places. It all seems to be along the lines of since Mr. Peters revealed the names of the participants, that he's somehow the bad guy in all this. This seems to miss a fairly obvious point:


This discussion was intended to be private. Someone who had access to that conversation chose to disclose that private conversation to Mr. Pedraza, or to someone to forward to him. Believe it or not, I don't really blame Mr. Pedraza for doing something with the information. He received information that he felt newsworthy and posted it. I did the same thing. I do, however question him as to what his intentions were in doing so. He has professed that his interest in the case and reason for starting Axamonitor was concern over the future of fan films. I fail to see how disclosing the contents of the discussion furthered that end. In fact, by revealing insider information, he probably blew the only chance any fan film production had of of having any sort of input on the future guidelines. Either in his zeal to embarrass Mr. Peters he overlooked his professed reason for having Axamonitor, or that never was his true intention in the first place. I hope all the page hits you got are worth that to you.

But the real turd in the punchbowl is whoever decided to convey a private conversation that should have stayed so to an outlet that is not neutral. He either did it directly, and asked Mr. Pedraza not to identify him, or he passed it off to someone else, thus making it harder to trace directly to him. Personally, I despise people who act in such a manner. They are the actions of a coward, and I have no compunctions whatsoever in saying so. Whoever it was had been banking on remaining in the shadows. They didn't consider that the names would get named, or that they wouldn't have been had they never disclosed the conversation.

What amazes me the most is all this brouhaha is all over fan films. If there ever was such a thing as a First World Problem, this would absolutely be it! Outside of the furor created over this by the Anti- side of the Axanar equation, you know what most everyone is talking about? The guidelines themselves. They're offering opinions on which ones are good, which are bad, or how they could be better modified. These are the people who fan film makers make fan films for! They don't seem to care about who was in the conversation; they seem to be glad that the conversation is (or, at least, was) taking place. Perhaps this is who the cues should be taken from.

All this having been said, I stand by my original post. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Forging Fan Film Guidelines

Funny how a simple message of congratulations can turn into something worth writing about! After JJ Abrams announcement (and subsequent confirmation by CBS and Paramount) that the lawsuit would be settled amicably and Alec Peters and company would be allowed to continue producing Axanar, I shot Alec a message to congratulate him. He responded, and told me how much he appreciated reading my blog posts on the subject. I tried to get some idea of how the negotiations were going, but he obviously couldn't talk about those. However, he did tell me the following, which he is allowing me to share with you!

Based on the official statement from CBS that the network is finally going to issue fan film guidelines, Alec has put together a group of Star Trek fan film producers to discuss a guideline proposal which reflects their concerns, and the apprehension of the thousands of fans who have rallied behind fan films for decades.

Alec said he contacted almost every major fan film producer seeking suggestions on a proposed set of guidelines.  Eight of them were invited to a Facebook chat group to discuss the proposal.  “I just felt that all the active fan films should be able to share their thoughts together in a constructive way,” he said. “Most of them don’t speak to CBS, and clearly we are communicating with them regularly, so it felt like the right thing to do."

“Unfortunately, James Cawley of Star Trek: New Voyages said no without even hearing a proposal. He was the only one who declined.  Everyone else wanted to at least see what a set of proposed guidelines would look like.”

As a starting point, Alec created some suggested guidelines which he forwarded to Todd Haberkorn of Star Trek: Continues, John Broughton of Farragut,  John Atkin of Yorktown, Nick Cook of Intrepid, Michael King of Valiant, Scott Johnson of Starbase Studios (who produce their own fan production as well as let other productions use their facility), Greg Lock of Star Trek Ambush, plus an unnamed representative of Star Trek: Renegades. “Everyone I sent this to agreed to at least look at the draft, and half of them became part of the ongoing discussion.As for the guidelines themselves, "It is still very much a work in progress, but we hope that we can at least have something to send to CBS so they appreciate the concerns of the fan film makers.”, said Peters.

Apparently, Peters has been lobbying CBS for fan film guidelines for over four years. He told me about his various meetings over the years. “I first spoke with Liz Kalodner, EVP of CBS Consumer Products and the Head of Licensing, after my first trip to New Voyages back in 2010. We actually met on the Paramount lot when Liz was out for some meetings in L.A.  She’s really nice, and very sharp, obviously! She felt there was too many issues that would need to be overcome, but she was very positive about fan films in general.”

“I then spoke to John Van Citters, Head of Star Trek Licensing, who I managed the Star Trek: The Experience auction for in 2010. We had a very good working relationship. In 2013, at the Las Vegas Star Trek Convention, I met with Bill Burke, VP of CBS Consumer Products, and continued the conversation. Both gave me the same line.  CBS simply couldn’t come up with guidelines because there were too many contracts, union and guild agreements, actor contracts, etc.  It was too complicated. Bill even told me that it would take the CEOs of both CBS and Paramount sitting together in the same room, talking about Star Trek fan films, in order to get anything done.”

Then there was the well-known (and since thoroughly discussed) meeting between Alec and several CBS representatives at the Las Vegas Convention last Summer, where Alec’s auction company Propworx produced a giant Star Trek auction. “John Van Citters and Bill Burke met with me at my request. I was determined to get some guidance, but they still told me that CBS would neither tell me what I could do, or what I could not do.  They were afraid that any such guidance would potentially give up IP rights. Ironically, here we now finally doing what should have been done years ago!"

It seems pretty obvious to me that if CBS had possessed the internal will to put out guidelines back then, they would have avoided a lawsuit and saved themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

As I said previously, this situation was inevitable, as fan films have increased in popularity and quality over the years. These changes have led other studios, notably Lucasfilm Ltd., to publicly support and assist fan films, even hosting them on their own websites.

And for those who might be curious as to what guidelines Mr. Peters and his group are planning to propse, here is their working draft:

1.) There must be the following disclaimer at the end of each episode, and in all promotional and marketing materials, on all fan production websites:
"Star Trek" and all related marks, logos and characters are solely owned by CBS Studios, Inc. This fan production is not endorsed by, sponsored by, nor affiliated with CBS, Paramount Pictures, or any other Star Trek franchise, and is a non-commercial fan-film intended for recreational use. No commercial exhibition of distribution is permitted.
2) Fan productions may not sell, or give away as perks, any item with a Star Trek mark, logos or character including, but not limited to, the words "Star Trek", the Enterprise insignia chevron, images of the USS Enterprise, or any Star Trek trademark.
3) Fan productions may take donations, but all donations must go to the production of the fan film and may not be used to pay any of the principals.
4) Fan productions may pay professional cast and crew for their time working on the production.
5) If a production uses a SAG member, he or she must become a SAG New Media Signatory.
6) Finished fan films may be no longer than 50 minutes in length (the approximate length of TOS episodes).
7) Fan film makers give to CBS an unlimited, unrestricted license to use their films, or any portion thereof, in any format CBS should deem appropriate.

Personally, I think this is a pretty good start! It will be interesting to see how much of this gets incorporated into the final guidelines. I find it strange that the Godfather of the modern fan film, James Cawley, declined to participate in this discussion. Alec has mentioned in his blog that his relationship with James has its ups and downs, so the lawsuit may have put it on the "down" side of things for Mr. Cawley. Even still, CBS will issue these guidelines regardless of his participation. One would think a man of his standing in the fan film community would want to have a say in shaping them. Then again, he shut down his Facebook page, and his website is now "under construction", so who knows what's going on with New Voyages in the first place? 

Either way, kudos to Alec and the other producers for working together to propose guidelines.  Incorporation of their efforts by CBS would certainly help guide Star Trek fan film producers, assuage concerned studio executives, and satisfy Star Trek fans who simply want more stories set in Gene Roddenberry's vast universe.

And thanks to Alec, for allowing me to share this with everyone!

(5/28/16: I have corrected this article based upon information released in a statement from Starbase studios. Previously, I had stated that eight had joined the Facebook chat and were part of the discussion, which conflicts with Mr. Peters' later statement that half of them actively participated. I also corrected the article to show that Starbase Studios only produces one production themselves, while allowing several others the use of their facilities) 

(5/30/16: Please also read my follow-up post here

Saturday, May 21, 2016

CBS/Paramount vs Axanar: The Undiscovered Country (AKA, An Open Letter To Michael Hinman)

For the last few months, I've been writing rather exclusively on the lawsuit filed against Axanar Productions by CBS and Paramount. At the end of my first post on the subject I asked the following question, "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?"

The answer, as it turns out to be, is when the director and producer of your upcoming Trek movie tell you the suit is a really bad idea! Take a look.....

Yes, that's none other than JJ Abrams announcing at the fan event held this past evening that CBS and Paramount will be dropping the lawsuit against Alec Peters and Axanar Productions. This was further confirmed via a press release sent to various news outlets, "We're pleased to confirm we are in settlement negotiations and are also working on a set of fan film guidelines."

This pleases me to no end! Not only are they seeing the light as far as the lawsuit goes, they are also willing to design the framework in which fan films can operate with their good graces. Since I got vilified in certain quarters for advocating this very thing, I feel rather vindicated.

Obviously, I'm not the only one who's happy about this. First off, the audience definitely received the news well. There are tons of ecstatic fans on various pages around Facebook. Heck, even the puppets from the Ax'd-We-Are parody are joyous!
Seems  Adm.Sameold Tropes didn't get his uniform back....
But I am sure none of us is as pleased as the man himself, Alec Peters. Mr. Peters was in the audience at the fan event, and apparently had no idea this announcement was going to be made! I'm willing to bet that after pinching himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming, then breathing a sigh of relief after realizing he wasn't, he has yet to come down from cloud nine!

Alec got to thank his guardian angel, Justin Lin, personally
Now, to be sure, there is still work to be done. We have entered an Undiscovered Country, if you will. The actual details of the settlement still need to be hammered out, and there's always the possibility that whatever guidelines get put in place could be fairly restrictive (if they adopt a severe time limit, like the Star Wars Fan Film Awards, we may see Axanar released like Blood & Chrome was!). Even still, there couldn't have been a happier ending for those of us who are big fans of Axanar, and fan films in general.

However, there are others who aren't taking this news so well, and that brings me to the second part of my post....

Dear Michael,

I'll be up front: I don't like you one bit. Considering that you once called me a "simpleton" and that you had a "bug bite that was smarter than me" (I hope you had that bite bronzed, by the way. It has to be the smartest bug bite on record.....),  I'm sure you can understand why I might have more than a little bit of enmity towards you.

It's ironic, though, that we are both alike in one respect: we both wrote about Axanar. And we both did it for the same reason: drive traffic to our respective sites. I, however, was up front with the fact that everything I posted was strictly my opinion on the matter (I mean, hell, I call my blog "Stuff I Think About", it couldn't really be anything else!). Whereas you cloak your opinion as "reporting". Oh, I know you'll fully defend your writing to the death as such. Perhaps I'll be kind and just say that you're so used to "reporting" through the filter of your own personal opinion, that you don't even notice that you do it anymore.

I don't feel like being kind, though. I read your "Lost: Hurley's Star Wars Script" screed (or, at least, as much as I could stomach), and here is what I think: you are an incredibly sore loser. Rather than take a little time and reflect on the things you've done and written over the last five months, you've opted to double down and "be right" about the whole thing, and act insufferable in the process.

I'm not usually a person who seeks to engage in schadenfreude (God! How, I love that word, though!), but you merit a special exception. Because, you see, no matter how many "articles" you post, or how much you attempt to convince all and sundry that you "were right" about Axanar and this lawsuit, the simple fact is that I, who you consider to be an "idiot" who "doesn't know how to think", was actually right. Your first post on anything having to do with Axanar was how they were "going to ruin it for all fan films". I, on the other hand, postulated the notion that this was a potential PR disaster and advocated for fan film guidelines. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but last night bore both those points out quite succinctly.  I sincerely hope that realization (assuming you are actually capable of enough self-awareness to have that realization) absolutely galls you.


(Pictures courtesy of Mark Largent and Alec Peters)

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

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.


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 (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, 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:


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 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'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:

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!

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?