CBS, Paramount Say Axanar Lawsuit Isn’t Over, Move on to Discovery

Exterior of U.S. Courthouse, Central District of California, Los Angeles. Source: https://flic.kr/p/6iVEdB. Edited: Cropped; logo overlaid.

Despite the announcement by JJ Abrams that Paramount and CBS would be seeking to end the lawsuit brought against Star Trek fan film Axanar and its creator Alec Peters, the studios are pushing on with the suit, which has moved on to the discovery phase. In a statement, the studios confirmed that the legal action against Axanar and Peters “remains pending”.

CBS and Paramount Pictures filed on June 15, 2016 their Answer to the counterclaim filed by Axanar’s attorneys, denying the copyright lawsuit is done, despite the protests of producer J.J. Abrams and Star Trek Beyond director Justin Lin.

The counterclaim was filed by Axanar and Peters and is essentially a suit by the defendants against the plaintiffs, reversing roles and with its own timetable. This means that, while CBS and Paramount originally brought suit against Axanar, Axanar turned around and sued them right back.

In the studios’ Answer, the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Loeb & Loeb, responded directly to the counterclaim, denying many of the allegations therein.

The answer was filed 21 days after the counterclaim was served on the plaintiffs by Axanar attorneys Winston & Strawn, who have the opportunity to respond before the case was to continue into discovery.

The Counterclaim

In their counterclaim, the defendants, producer Alec Peters and his Axanar Productions alleged they have:

  • “A real and reasonable apprehension” they face additional litigation if they proceed with Axanar.
  • Put Axanar on hold until the studios provide “necessary guidance” to prevent the defendants increasing their liability.
  • Grounds for a declaratory judgment that Prelude to Axanar, the Axanar screenplays, its “Vulcan Scene,” and any other alleged infringing works are not “substantially similar” to Star Trek, or constitute fair use under copyright law.

The Studios’ Response

In their eight-page response, CBS and Paramount generally denied Axanar’s claims, especially challenging Axanar’s assertion that “until this lawsuit, Plaintiffs, or any predecessor claiming to own copyrights in the Star Trek universe, had never filed a lawsuit against any Star Trek fan in connection with that fan’s efforts to contribute to the wealth of Star Trek fan fiction that currently exists.” Instead, the plaintiffs replied:

[The studios] admit that they have not sued with respect to all uses of the Star Trek Copyrighted Works, but deny that they have not previously sued to enforce their intellectual property rights in the Star Trek Copyrighted Works.

Tolerated Use
The plaintiffs disputed Peters’ claim that given his “extensive history with CBS,” he believed he was “operating within the tolerated realm of Star Trek fan fiction,” and that he “reached out to CBS on multiple occasions in an effort to seek guidelines about the production.” Instead, they stated:

[The plaintiffs] deny that Defendant Alec Peters “reached out to CBS” on multiple occasions, admit that Defendant Alec Peters spoke to [CBS officials] Bill Burke and to John Van Citters, but state that Mr. Peters was never given permission to use Star Trek Copyrighted Works, nor was he provided with “guidelines” regarding ways in which he could use Plaintiffs’ intellectual property for his Star Trek film projects, for either commercial or non-commercial use, nor was he told that his use of such Star Trek Copyrighted Works would be tolerated.

The studios also denied Peters’ version of his August 2015 meeting with CBS officials, from which he claimed he received no warning he had “gone too far,” despite his “years … of contributions in support of both CBS and Paramount.”

Instead, the plaintiffs denied that they did not “‘express any concerns’ to Peters prior to this lawsuit.”

Overstatement
In the counterclaim, Peters described his previous association with CBS as his “expertise” regarding Star Trek props and costumes, “recognized by CBS when they hired him to sell the assets of the Star Trek Experience [sic],” volunteering to help CBS cataloging its Star Trek prop and costume archive and donating his warehouse to house some objects.

Instead, the plaintiffs minimized their experience with Peters: “[We] admit that CBS Consumer Products Inc. worked in the past in a limited capacity with a company with which Alec Peters was involved,” otherwise lacking information to substantiate his other claims.

Abrams-Lin Intercession
On May 20, 2016, Star Trek producer Abrams claimed the case was “going away … within the next few weeks,” by which Axanar claimed Abrams and Lin had “publicly renounced” the suit.

Instead, the plaintiffs stated that while Abrams’ and Lin’s public statements “speak for themselves,” otherwise the plaintiffs denied Abrams and Lin had renounced the suit.

With regard to its “uncertainty as to how Axanar may proceed with its film,” the plaintiffs stated “their [legal] action remains pending.”

Relief

Axanar also sought the following as relief from the court:

  • Declaration that the Axanar works do not infringe on Star Trek copyrights.
  • Defendants’ Attorneys’ fees and costs.
  • Additional relief the court finds “just, proper, and equitable.”

In reply, the plaintiffs generally denied Axanar’s fair use defense under copyright law and denied the defendants “are entitled to any relief whatsoever.”

Next Steps

Axanar’s attorneys have the opportunity to file a response to the plaintiffs’ pleading as the case formally moves into discovery.

In the meantime, settlement talks are said to be continuing between the parties. If successfully concluded, the two sides could each drop their complaint and counterclaim. Otherwise, the case continues on its schedule toward trial in January 2017.

This article is cross posted at Axamonitor.

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