The legal saga that has drawn the interest of both Star Trek fans and law scholars alike took another turn on Monday.
Axanar Productions, the production company owned by Alec Peters that plans on producing the fledgling fan film Axanar, responded to a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by CBS and Paramount Pictures over whether the film uses “innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes.” We reported on this back in December when the lawsuit was filed, and recommend you read that story before proceeding further.
The response is detailed in a 29-page document which tries to go on the offensive regarding alleged ambiguities in the initial legal filing and makes several calls to get the entire lawsuit dismissed.
Axanar wants to know exactly what copyrights are being infringed upon, pointing out that the Star Trek franchise is immense and that nowhere in their filing do the studios specify which works are in dispute:
…while Plaintiffs allege ownership of “thousands” of copyrights relating to Star Trek episodes and films, Plaintiffs fail to specify which of those copyrights Defendants have allegedly infringed.
When CBS was spun off from Viacom in 2006 the Star Trek rights got split between CBS and Paramount, with CBS retaining rights to the television shows while Paramount controlled the feature films. This situation is unusual and often confuses people. Axanar wants more detail regarding who actually owns which copyrights:
Which Plaintiff owns which alleged copyrights is critical to Defendants’ investigation into Plaintiffs’ claims, as it could be that the only works that Plaintiffs are actually alleging Defendants infringed are owned by one Plaintiff as opposed to the other.
Putting the cart before the horse?
They also feel the studios cannot act against a film which hasn’t started production and believe the lawsuit should be dismissed on that basis alone:
Compounding Plaintiffs’ failure to plead their copyright claims with specificity is Plaintiffs’ attempt to assert copyright claims based on a film which has not even been made yet. Plaintiffs’ claims based on the Potential Fan Film are premature, unripe, and would constitute an impermissible prior restraint on speech. Thus, Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed or stricken.
Ultimately, they believe that the studios have no legal ground to stand on and would like to see the entire lawsuit dropped:
Plaintiffs have failed to put Defendants on fair notice of their claims, which are not plausible, and seek premature relief. Defendants respectfully request that the Court grant their motion to dismiss or strike Plaintiffs’ claims.
To get a professional perspective, we reached out to our own legal counsel, Susan Kayler, who told us that “the response is creative. I don’t know that it will work. It could slow things down. It will be interesting.”
Kayler, who founded the Artists and Writers Legal Resource Center, explains that by asking the plaintiffs to clarify which entities own which copyrightable assets, Axanar is calling into question whether Paramount or CBS have the right to file suit in the first place.
Who owns [particular elements from Star Trek] determines who can sue. Their argument is akin to, ‘you can’t sue us because you don’t own it.’ [Axanar] wants different entities to have to break down which part of Star Trek each “owns” since only the owner can file suit.
CBS and Paramount are expected to respond by February 29th, although the studios have asked for a two week delay. Stay tuned…
Much more detail is available in the motion itself: