CBS and Paramount Put Judicial Vulcan Death Grip on ‘Star Trek’ Fan Film
The latest chapter in the ongoing saga of CBS and Paramount’s efforts to sue the Spock ears off of the producers of Star Trek fan film Axanar continues today, with a new development from the Los Angeles federal court system. This hullabaloo began back in December of 2015, when copyright-holding studios CBS and Paramount got wind that a fellow by the name of Alec Peters had raised nearly a million dollars (that figure is now well over a million) for an independent film project taking place in the Star Trek universe. Because studio executives did not remember selling the creative rights to Mr. Peters, they did the reasonable thing and hauled him into court, claiming the man had infringed on ‘thousands’ of copyrights. In March, Paramount tightened their case up, specifically naming the most heinous violations contained within Axanar, and come June, Paramount released a list of 10 guidelines that fan enthusiasts crafting their own homemade spinoffs can follow to avoid legal action.
The plot has thickened once again, according to a new report from Deadline. In a ruling containing a surprising number of winking Star Trek puns, fun-loving U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner decided that a jury of Peters’ peers will be the ones to decide if this ripoff has been ripped hard enough to merit legal recompense. According to Klausner, the infringement suit “can live long and prosper if the Axanar works are substantially similar to the Star Trek copyrighted works,” and a group of reasonable citizens will be the ones to rule whether Axanar has taken not just the proper nouns (referred to as “objective substantial similarity”) but the very soul of the Star Trek franchise (referred to as “subject substantial similarity”). The jury will be called on to determine whether “an ordinary, reasonable person would find the total concept and feel of the two works to be substantially similar.”
The matter is now back up in the air, as the time-consuming and laborious process of jury selection gets under way. (Remember how long that episode of American Crime Story took?) But if Peters turns out to be a competent enough filmmaker to affect the appearance of legitimacy in Axanar, this court case could have huge implications for the future of professional-level fan-fiction.