Saturday, January 21, 2017

CBS/Paramount vs Axanar: Join Me In A Drink To Celebrate Our Mutual Dissatisfaction

The puppets just learned their options were picked up for Ax'd-No-More!

For those who haven't heard yet, CBS and Paramount have have settled their case against Axanar Productions. My good friend Jonathan Lane has an article over at Fan Film Factor with some of the details of the settlement.

Basically, Mr. Peters will be allowed to make Axanar in a manner which mostly conforms to the new guidelines, with some sizeable exceptions. That means that Axanar will be limited to two 15 minute segments, for a total viewing time of 30 minutes. However, the plaintiffs are allowing Richard Hatch, Gary Graham, JG Hertzler, and Kate Vernon to reprise their roles from Prelude To Axanar (one of those sizeable exceptions I mentioned...). Axanar Productions will also be allowed to make future Star Trek fan productions, provided they comply fully with the guidelines issued last June. 

On the not-so-great side, Mr. Peters cannot engage in any further fundraising through crowdfunding sites for Axanar. However, there is no limit imposed on him from fundraising through other, more private efforts.

So, that all being said, why such a downer of a title?

The title is a paraphrase from the Enterprise episode Cease Fire. It's what Shran says after Captain Archer points out that a compromise is defined as a solution that neither side is happy with. And that's what this settlement is: a compromise. I know there are a lot of people who are not entirely pleased with this outcome, and I get it. Axanar is supposed to be a feature-length film. What we're going to get is something quite a ways south of that. However, a little reality needs to be shed upon that expectation: The minute that CBS and Paramount decided to sue, the likelihood of Axanar being made unmolested became slim at best. 
Even if Judge Klausner hadn't shot down the Fair Use argument, and Winston & Strawn argued it successfully at trial, that defense was most likely that Prelude's mock-documentary format made it transformative and that the Axanar script was in a fungible enough state to be rewritten to that format (though I have not seen any of the scripts, I'm willing to bet all my quatloos that at least one of the revised scripts written since the lawsuit hit adopts that format). So you can throw whatever script was written prior to 12/29/2015 out the window.

Now, let's put Klausner's ruling back in to the equation. Here are the likely paths this case took once the Summary Judgement rulings came down (my estimation of likelihood in parenthesis):
  • Case goes to trial, and Axanar wins on the basis of there not being a subjective substantial similarity to Star Trek. (Um, yeah...probably not happening)
  • Case goes to trial, and Axanar loses, but is found to be infringing non-willfully (fairly good chance, depending on how Mr. Peters' meetings with CBS played with the jury, and how much evidence of the existence of fan films would have been allowed)
  • Case goes to trial, Axanar loses, and is found to be willfully infringing (Also a fairly good chance, though a little less so, dependent on the same reasons listed above) 
  • Both sides agree to a settlement  
Now, regardless of which of the two likely outcomes occur, it's guaranteed that the defendants would file for appeal, based upon Klausner's shooting down of the Fair Use defense. But even if the appeals court grants that, it'd be a year at the earliest before the 9th Circuit would hear the appeal, and what they would do is remand the case back to Klausner's court for a new trial. Based on that scenario, it would be 12-18 months minimum before Alec could begin to even think again about making Axanar (assuming he wins a new trial). And even if that all occurred, it would still not be the Axanar that was planned prior to the lawsuit.

So, the choices come down really, to two. Settle now, and know that Axanar can be made (though under restrictions), or roll the dice and hope that they fell the way the way we want them to (the way we'd need them to!). Well, a bird in the hand is still worth two in the bush! So, for Mr. Peters, and for all of us who want to see this story (at least in some form!), this settlement really is for the best, even if it leaves us with some dissatisfaction.

CBS/Paramount is surely dissatisfied with this as well. Sure, (if their joint press release is completely accurate), they got an admission that Mr. Peters "crossed a line". Such is a small price to pay for being able to move forward with Axanar. Was it really worth it to them to spend seven figures on legal fees to impose restriction on the production that probably could have been had for the cost of a phone call and a few meetings? I know there have been others who are saying that a million dollars in legal fees is minor to a corporation as large as CBS and Paramount are, but wasteful spending is still wasteful spending!

Furthermore, those seven figures did nothing to earn them new fans. Yes, the number of fans completely honked off at CBS and Paramount may be miniscule, but the number who actually cheer their efforts and weren't already Star Trek fans is probably miniscule in comparison to the honked-off crowd!

But the most dissatisfied has to be those on the Anti- side of the Axanar fence. For a multitude of that crowd wanted nothing less than Alec Peters' head on a pike. They wanted blood. They wanted Alec to be made an example of. And now they are either throwing tantrums over not getting it, holding out hope for such fantasies as a "donor class-action lawsuit" or an "IRS investigation" (Hi, Carlos!), pretending this settlement is a full victory for the plaintiffs, or non-chalantly saying, "Oh, yeah. This is what I expected all along." (I'm looking at you, Hinman!). Remember though, there are pages and pages of material on the internets (much of it on the Facebook site where you congregate) of what they wanted and expected to happen, and this certainly wasn't it!

So, please, join me in a drink to celebrate our mutual dissatisfaction, for we have less to be dissatisfied about!

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)