The Internet has undeniably changed the landscape of filmmaking, offering other outlets and crowdfunding options through which artisans can get their projects off the ground. One such project that’s gained overwhelming traction in this sphere is Axanar, a Star Trek film that raised more than $1 million through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. However, a recent lawsuit filed against the film’s producers by franchise owners CBS and Paramount Pictures has the potential to cement how far fan-made and crowdfunded films can and cannot go.
According to court documents filed on Wednesday, the suit pertains to the “unauthorized exploitation of Star Trek.” Filed against Axanar Productions Inc. and producer Alec Peters for both Axanar and its already made prequel Prelude to Axanar, the action further states these films infringe “plaintiffs’ works by using innumerable copyrighted elements of Star Trek, including its settings, characters, species, and themes.”
CBS and Paramount, which are seeking up to $150,000 “for each separate Star Trek Copyrighted Work infringed, released a joint statement on the matter to The Wrap.
“Star Trek is a treasured franchise in which CBS and Paramount continue to produce new original content for its large universe of fans. The producers of Axanar are making a Star Trek picture they describe themselves as a fully-professional independent Star Trek film. Their activity clearly violates our Star Trek copyrights which, of course, we will continue to vigorously protect.”
Collider reached out to Axanar Productions for a statement, which you can read in full below.
Speaking to The Wrap a few months ago when Axanar was first gaining traction, Peters noted how CBS has been fairly welcoming of similar fan-made works. He also noted that he and his team were using three virtually obscure copyright protected characters — Garth of Izar from Star Trek TV series, the Vulcan from Enterprise, and General Chang from Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Some of these are now specifically cited in the lawsuit (“the replication of the Planet of Vulcan…the look and feel of the planet, the characters’ costumes, their pointy ears and their distinctive hairstyle”).
Joseph Kahn found himself in a similar battle with Saban over his dark and gritty Power/Rangers short film, though the situation never escalated this far. After Kahn premiered his work on YouTube and Vimeo, the copies were deleted by the respective platforms due to copyright claims. However, thanks to all the attention it received, Saban worked out a compromise with Kahn, who reiterated everyone involved did not receive compensation for their work.
It was only a matter of time before a work of this nature fell into the courtroom in this way, and the situation with Axanar could prove a test trial for any filmmakers looking to follow suit.
Here’s the full statement released by Alec Peters:
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.