A potentially multi-million dollar lawsuit, including a request for injunction, has been filed against the fan film Star Trek Axanar, its creator Alec Peters, and up to 20 others working on the production by Star Trek rights holders CBS and Paramount.
[UPDATE]: Alec Peters has made an official statement in response to the lawsuit.
Yesterday (Dec 29), Paramount Pictures Corp. and CBS Studios Inc. collectively filed suit against the successful fan film group, Star Trek Axanar. You can read the official document here.
The Suit: What does it all mean?
We’ve waded through some of the legelese in the document in hopes of explaining precisely what CBS and Paramount are seeking in damages and on what grounds. Here’s the skinny.
The Infringement. Paramount and CBS are suing for three types of copyright infringement, including standard, contributory, and vicarious copyright infringement. Basically, they are suing for each and every way that Axanar violated the use of Star Trek. They are also asking that the judge make a “declaratory judgement” meaning some kind of statement as to why and how copyright was infringed in this case, for use as precedent in later proceedings.
Paramount and CBS have also asked for an injunction, meaning that any work on Axanar (set to start major production next month) would come to a stop until the suit is resolved.
The Damages. Paramount and CBS aren’t pulling any punches. The suit doesn’t state an exact amount that the plaintiffs are seeking, but it’s not hard to do the math. Under the law (the statute), Paramount and CBS are asking for $150,000 for each work infringed upon (or actual damages sustained by CBS and Paramount, whichever is higher) plus reasonable attorneys’ fees.
Let’s start with the first one: the statutory $150K per work. This is the bare minimum owed by Axanar should the court find in favor of Paramount and CBS. And, it could potentially add up to millions of dollars. Depending on how Paramount, CBS, and the court decide to split up the “works” of Star Trek, Axanar may be facing fines for dozens of infringements.
And, any reasonable attorneys’ fees? The lawsuit is being handled by lawyers of Loeb & Loeb, a firm with an extensive reputation in the entertainment business. Attorneys’ fees alone could add up to hundreds of thousands, depending on how drawn out this affair ends up being.
What does this mean for the fan film industry?
Plenty of Star Trek fan films exist in the world. In fact, there have never been more fan productions out there than there are currently in production today. So, why Axanar? Why now?
Star Trek fan films have been allowed, one might even say unofficially sanctioned, by CBS and Paramount. But, there has always been one very important caveat. In order to protect their legal rights, CBS and Paramount have forbidden any fan film from making any kind of profit. This includes DVD sales, ticket sales, merchandise, and anything beyond minimal payment to project staff.
So, why is Axanar being singled out? The suit spells it out (emphasis mine):
“[Axanar] have raised over $1 million so far to produce these works, including building out a studio and hiring actors, set designers, and costume designers. The Axanar works are substantially similar to and unauthorized derivative works of [Star Trek].”
Not unexpectedly, the famously unabashed Peters has taken to the internet to address the suit:
Not so fast.
An injunction means precisely that the Axanar team will be ‘deterred from what they are doing’. And, given that there is absolutely no legal grounds for the team to stand on (no, building Axanar Studios does not fall under fair use), Axanar is effectively dead.
There has been no word so far on any other law suits against any other Star Trek fan film groups. Although it seems that Axanar is being singled out as a particularly egregious infringement, it’s not impossible that other films could suffer as a result nor is it impossible for them to have suit brought against them.
[UPDATE] Alec Peters official statement
Alec Peters, creator of Axanar and one of the Defendants in this lawsuit, has made an official statement responding to news of the suit.
“This morning, I was greeted with news that our production company, Axanar Productions and I, personally, am being sued by CBS Studios, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation for copyright infringement of Star Trek.
First of all, I was disappointed to learn about this through an article in an industry trade. For several years, I’ve worked with a number of people at CBS on Star Trek-related projects, and I would have hoped those personal relationships would have warranted a phone call in advance of the filing of a legal complaint. Nevertheless, I know I speak for everyone at Axanar Productions when I say it is our hope that this can be worked out in a fair and amicable manner.
Axanar is a fan film. Fan films – whether related to Star Trek, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Power Rangers, Batman or any other franchise – are labors of love that keep fans engaged, entertained, and keep favorite characters alive in the hearts of fans. Like other current fan films, AXANAR entered production based on a very long history and relationship between fandom and studios. We’re not doing anything new here.
Like all fan films, AXANAR is a love letter to a beloved franchise. For nearly 50 years, Star Trek’s devotees have been creating new Star Trek stories to share with fellow fans. That’s all we’re trying to do here.
Since the original Star Trek TV series, when the letter writing campaign by fans got NBC to greenlight a third season of Star Trek, fan support has been critical to the success of the franchise. It is the Star Trek fans themselves who are most affected here, for by suing Axanar Productions to stop making our movie and collect so-called damages, CBS and Paramount are suing the very people who have enthusiastically maintained the universe created by Gene Roddenberry so many years ago.
The fact that many of the fans involved with Axanar Productions are also industry professionals speaks volumes to the influence of Star Trek in the entertainment industry. Not surprisingly, these fans want to give something back. We’re very proud that the work we’ve done to date looks so good. That is also a reflection of the devotion of Star Trek’s fans.
Like everything related to Axanar Productions, we take this matter very seriously and remain open to discussing solutions with all parties that can be mutually beneficial.”