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Fan fiction Trekkies on course for court

View profile for Christopher Buck
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​Axanar Productions (‘Axanar’) have boldly gone where no other filmmakers have gone before and raised over $1,000,000 to produce a feature-length movie set 21 years before the first Star Trek episode. Does this infringe copyright laws? CBS and Paramount certainly think so…

Course Heading for Court

CBS and Paramount are suing fan fiction writers, Anaxar, for copyright infringement.The opposition arose after Axanar released a short advertisement promoting the production. Court documents have since been produced by CBS and Paramount, which provide examples of the “unauthorised exploitation” of the original Star Trek series.

Axanar’s film is based at the time of the Four Years War - 21 years before Captain Kirk and his crew beamed onto our TV screens. CBS and Paramount are claiming Axanar have infringed the rights of Star Trek in numerous ways. And when Axanar looked to challenge the claim, the broadcasting giants responded with details of the alleged infringements, which included…

  1. using names of characters and planets
  2. characters wearing gold uniforms
  3. displaying triangular medals on the left breast of dress uniform
  4. the use of phasers, warp drive and beaming up transporters
  5. portraying Vulcans with pointy ears
  6. using similar Klingon make-up as in the original series
  7. using the fictional Klingon language

Simple Logic?

In total, Paramount and CBS have given 45 examples where Axanar has "intentionally sought to replicate the Star Trek copyrighted works". The Vulcan scene in Axanar’s YouTube clip alone is allegedly guilty of 12 instances of infringement. Further to making their claim, CBS and Paramount have requested that the matter be heard and decided by a jury

Axanar is supported by George Takei, an actor from the original Star Trek series, and stars of the prelude, including Battlestar Galactica's Richard Hatch and Tony Todd. It has been argued that fan fiction is, in essence, free publicity and marketing for the original production. Axanar believes “fan films are like free commercials for the Star Trek franchise!” They also go on to say how, in fact, the fan films could be more than free commercials thanks to the social media traction as a result of new productions being shared and discussed.

There is clearly a lot of support and drive behind the fan fiction production, but this may not be enough to allow it to go ahead. Saying that, according to a recent article on Axanar’s blog, it is debatable whether CBS and Paramount may be shooting themselves in the foot by not allowing for the production of essentially free promotional material.

The Final Frontier                                                                                                         

If CBS and Paramount are successful in their argument, it could have to a major impact on fan fiction productions, both in relation to Star Trek and other franchises. The decisions made in this case will affect how fan films are viewed, especially by producers of original productions, and to what extent they may or may not be produced.

The claim for copyright infringement means it is now uncertain whether Axanar’s fan fiction production will live long and prosper. 

Expert advice

It is always worth considering what, if any, implications may arise from any actions you are looking to take. Whether that is looking to produce fan fiction without infringing the rights of the original material, or protecting your own original material from infringement.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need advice on whether or not you have infringed on a copyright then please feel free to get on contact with me on chris.buck@franklins-sols.co.uk or on 01908 850 616.

Image courtesy of 123rf.com

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