‘Star Trek’ Copyright Settlement Allows Fan Film to Proceed

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Photo

A starship, the U.S.S. Ares, as depicted in “Prelude to Axanar.”

Credit
Axanar Productions

It was a legal battle worthy of a Federation starship taking on a Klingon destroyer.

On one side was Axanar Productions, which raised $1 million to make an amateur fan film called “Axanar” that was influenced by an episode from “Star Trek,” the popular science-fiction television series that originally was broadcast from 1966-69.

On the other side: Paramount Pictures Corporation and CBS Studios, which own the copyrights for the six “Star Trek” television series and 13 movies.

“Axanar” was the brainchild of Alec Peters of Los Angeles, an avid “Star Trek” fan. He was 8 years old when its show time moved to 10 p.m. So he could watch an episode, his mother put him to bed at 8 p.m. and woke him two hours later.

Axanar Productions made a 20-minute movie called “Prelude to Axanar” that was posted on YouTube in 2014 and was meant to be a springboard to a 90-minute movie called “Axanar.”

The prelude movie, with its high production values and detailed costumes, characters and props that evoke the original “Star Trek,” caught the attention of Paramount and CBS executives. They launched a copyright infringement lawsuit in federal court in California in 2015.

In court papers, Paramount and CBS said “Prelude to Axanar” echoed the “feel and the mood” of “Star Trek” and copied many of its copyrighted works, including the Starship Enterprise, Vulcans and the “interrelationship between species, planets and alliances.” Legal arguments even discussed whether the Klingon language was subject to copyright protection.

In an exhaustive inventory of alleged infringements, the suit included side-by-side photos comparing space vessels, logos, terminology, costumes and other elements from the original series with the 2014 film.

Axanar argued that Paramount and CBS had long tolerated fan fiction and that no previous cases had been brought against a fan over alleged copyright violations.

The suit was “at odds with the Star Trek ideals of inclusion, tolerance, unity and peace,” Axanar said in a court filing.

Though the suit was derided by some fans, The Hollywood Reporter noted that the studios were using it to signal that they would no longer tolerate professional-quality derivatives of its movies and television series.

On Friday, the sides announced a settlement.

“Axanar and Mr. Peters acknowledge that both films were not approved by Paramount or CBS, and that both works crossed boundaries acceptable to CBS and Paramount relating to copyright law,” a statement attributed to all the parties said.

The statement said the studios “continue to be big believers in fan fiction and fan creativity” and encouraged amateur filmmakers to demonstrate their passion for “Star Trek” as long as their works were nonprofessional and met the companies’ guidelines for fan films.

Mike Bawden, a spokesman for Axanar, said the agreement allows the company to make no more than two additional films of a maximum of 15 minutes each that could be distributed on YouTube without ads. “Prelude to Axanar” can remain on YouTube without ads.

There is no timetable for when production might begin at an Axanar studio in Valencia, Calif.

“We’re starting from scratch,” he said in an interview on Friday. “We got a lot of work done, but the question is how do you take a 90-minute story and turn it into a 30-minute story?”

“Axanar” is set 21 years before the original television series, which was set in the 23rd century, and tells the story of Garth of Izar, a legendary Starfleet captain who was a hero of Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. Garth, who led his crew in a war against the Klingon Empire, was introduced in a 1969 episode called “Whom Gods Destroy.”

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