[Writer’s note: As James and Mike pointed out in the comments below, the lawsuit against Axanar was filed jointly, by both Paramount and CBS. That kind of junks the legal defense outlined here – and we have written a correction detailing so. However, we’ll leave this original article in place because it still makes interesting reading and has some cool links in it.]
We’ve already reported on the lawsuit Paramount filed against fan-film producers of Axanar. But, as it turns out, the case might not be as black and white as we all assumed.
Earlier this year, Star Trek fans raised over a million dollars to produce a not-for-profit fan film entitled ‘Axanar’, about one of the key battles in early Star Trek lore.
Despite dozens of other fan film productions existing – including ongoing series like Star Trek: New Voyages and Starship Exeter – Paramount pictures decided to sue the makers of Axanar; alleging copyright infringement.
At first, we all assumed the case was cut and dry. As much as we all support fan filmaking, when the copyright owners get involved the fans generally don’t have much of a leg to stand on. The entire fanfilm industry exists on the whim of the original copyright owners.
Or, in the case of Star Trek, does it?
Because Reece Watkins, over at Krypton Radio, recently penned a fantastic editorial which blows apart the lawsuit Paramount have filed; and it throws the entire future of the Star Trek franchise into question.
Watkins points out that Paramount, who filed the lawsuit, don’t actually own the Star Trek franchise. CBS, the network that originally aired the 1960s TV show, and subsequent incarnations like The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, own most of the intellectual property that Paramount are claiming infringement on. Paramount only own the cinematic version of Star Trek; and actually have no greater claim on characters like the Klingons and Captain Kirk than the makers of Axanar do.
This means that Paramount’s entire case could be thrown out of court, unless they can actually prove that the intellectual property being infringed is unique to their movies, and not shared or derived from the original Star Trek.
With so much of the Star Trek canon having been created by the CBS TV shows, this is going to be a challenge for Paramount; and it could get even worse. The makers of Axanar are themselves intellectual property lawyers, and their strategy, should Paramount not settle, is to analyze the entire history of the Star Trek franchise; and work out if Paramount really own everything they’re laying claim to. It’s entirely possible some elements have already fallen into the public domain, as this is the first copyright infringement filed by the owners of Star Trek.
Reece Watkins concludes his article by pointing out the folly of Paramount’s lawsuit. They’re attacking some of the most passionate fans of Star Trek – not just the makers of Axanar, but the tens of thousands of people who funded the fan film. If they embraced and adopted Axanar, it could turn them into heros. But if they continue trying to crush the production, it could be a public relations nightmare for them.
Head over to Krypton Radio and read Reece’s entire piece here.